Friends without benefits
After establishing Celeste and Jesse as basically the best couple ever through a beautiful photo montage, we find out that they aren't a couple, but an ex-couple, with Jesse, an unemployed and under-motivated artist, living in Celeste's guest house. Celeste is a successful trend spotter, working with brands to stay ahead of the curve. Together, they are best buds, sharing little inside jokes and spending all their time together, which is freaking out all their friends (including Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen as their closest pals) who understandably can't get with their continued closeness. For Celeste and Jesse however, it's all good, until Jesse finds out a one-night-stand is about to make him a father, and he decides to try and make things work with his baby mama. Suddenly, Celeste's world is crumbling, as she no longer has the safety net of having her best friend always there for her.
Though the title features both of their names, it's the female half of the couple that this film is really about, following her difficult adjustment to learning her back-up plan has moved on. Having kept Jesse like a "break glass in an emergency" pal in her backyard, she's never had to really move on with her life, and it's mostly prevented Jesse from doing so either. But when he tries to grow up a bit (he's certainly not been faultless in their mutual immaturity) her personal and professional lives suffer, as she pursues a string of bad boyfriends and wrecks things with an important account, a teen pop star with a poor attitude (Emma Roberts.) How she adjusts and learns is where the movie's path will travel.
Rashida Jones is one of the most likable actresses of her generation, so it's not surprise that it's easy to side with her in her struggles. More than willing to be the goof or loser, she's perfect at translating her own words to the screen (she wrote the film with Will McCormack) portraying her character's polished professional side and personal disarray with equal ability. There's something magically delicious about watching Jones in a bad relationship, and it really makes you root for her to make it out, even if she is being selfish. As Jesse, Samberg is quite good as well, playing the amiable doofus he's known for, while adding a bit of an edge to his usual persona. He doesn't get anywhere near the material to work with that Jones has, but their chemistry makes it easy to appreciate why they enjoyed such a close relationship.
The plotting is a bit light outside of the main seed of a friendly separated couple having trouble moving on, as the film is more of a mumblecore-lite character study. Director Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind) does a great job of letting the characters do their thing, filming much of the movie in a floating, handheld manner (where being in focus isn't always a focus) that feels very real and in-the-moment, which helps sell a situation some might find as unrealistic. Though it never looks very fancy (Celeste's world never gets too glamorous) there's a definite artistry at work, with some well choreographed moments of camera work that help punctuate the film's more overtly comedic beats. Krieger's effort behind the camera is aided by some solid supporting performances in front of it, with Graynor establishing herself as an up-and-coming cinematic best friend of note, co-writer McCormack playing a scene-stealing weed dealer/life counselor and Elijah Wood cropping up as Celeste's gay co-worker and the film's main voice of reason. Though the story won't stick with you for long (the next morning I couldn't remember how it ended) there are enough memorable moments and interesting performances to make it well worth watching.
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 track on this film is just what an indie dramedy long on talking needs, delivering clean dialogue up front, without distortion, while the surrounds provide some nice atmospheric effects and some rather engaged support for the film's soundtrack, making the appearance of music in the film a bit more aggressive than it might need to be. When apparent, during some of the more driving tunes, the LFE is appropriately strong.
If you're looking for more focused background info, Jones returns for a second track, joined by her creative collaborators, McCormack and Krieger. It's still very light and friendly, as the trio have a great relationship, but they offer up far more detail on the filming of the movie, including notes on lens, alternate takes and changes from the script to the screen.
For the more visually-inclined, or just those in a hurry, a 13:51 featurette, "The Making of Celeste and Jesse Forever" covers some of the same ground as the commentaries, as Jones, Samberg, Krieger and others sit down to chat about the production, offering insight on a variety of topics, including the real-life influences on the script, which is frequently part of these extras.
For even more about the film, you can check out the 14:08 "On the Red Carpet: Premiere and Q&A," which has media interviews from the L.A. Film Fest, along with moments from an audience Q&A at the same event in June 2012, where Krieger and the main cast, minus Olsen, answered questions about several elements of the film. Q&As tend to be great bonus material, so it's inclusion here is appreciated, especially since this isn't a genre film (which are normally Q&A subjects.
One of the more unusual extras is a 1:13 reel of Chris Pine outtakes. What's that you say? Chris Pine wasn't mentioned in the review? That's because he's barely in the movie, appearing in a line-less, unidentifiable cameo. Here, you get to see a small line that was cut from the film, done a few different ways. Being able to cut Captain Kirk from the movie is perhaps the only bit of opulence in the production.
In a similar vein, a trio of deleted scenes (2:57 in total), two featuring more of Graynor, are available to check out, and they aren't bad, cut mainly for pacing it seems. Hearing Jones blast a bunch of vegan slackers was particularly fun.
Also included is the film's theatrical trailer.
The Bottom Line