Like her Parks and Recreation co-star Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed, Rashida Jones’ first lead feature role is a likeable enough effort to step out from the tube, but also one that doesn’t deviate too much from her small screen persona. Perhaps it’s her limitations as an actress, or just the P&R writers’ knack for creating such well-rounded, uniquely tailored characters, but Celeste could easily be Anne Perkins reinvented as a trend forecaster with a little bit more emotional, dramatic breadth. Which is not to slight her performance – Jones is endearingly klutzy, and she bounces off Andy Samberg well, who’s – believe it or not – watchable attempting something straighter than we’re used to from him (The Lonely Island, Saturday Night Live).
That the screenplay, dotted with intimately humorous details that feel like private jokes from a long-term relationship, was written by Jones and her real-life ex Will McCormack, lends Celeste and Jesse Forever a truer-to-life veneer than your average Hollywood romantic comedy, and it helps sell us the idea that both characters, six months into their divorce, would remain so lovey-dovey and close to each other. But the film doesn’t quite transcend formula either (see: Elijah Wood’s gay, advice-offering colleague, McCormack’s stoner buddy), with director Lee Toland Krieger struggling to seamlessly balance the heart-tugging demands of a separation with its comic complications. As a vehicle for Jones, it’s fine – it’s just not the complete revision of the rules it initially presents itself to be.