It’s not a standard romantic comedy, because basically it’s the story of a divorce. So instead of starting at the bottom and going up, it starts at the top and goes down. But it’s still an interesting character study. And it will make baby boomers feel old.
Celeste (Rashida Jones) has a very successful career, and a relationship with a boyfriend, Jesse (Andy Samberg), that really seems to be working. But wait, we soon find out they’re technically married but separated. They decided that they get along better that way. Still spend the fun time together, but live in separate quarters. Actually, he lives somewhere on the premises – some kind of non-attached outbuilding where he has a studio. You see, he’s an artist. Currently not an employed one. Oh, he has some projects he’s working on, but none of them seem very urgent. But as long as she doesn’t have to live with him, she’s fine with all that. They just enjoy each other’s company. And she seems to be fine with pretending that he’s not still in love with her.
Until that ol’ Green Monster rears its ugly head. Jesse meets someone else (actually, he already has, she just didn’t find out right away, which is another part of the disconnect). Worse, her best friend, and her best friend’s fiancée, just can’t take the subterfuge any more; they think it’s too weird trying to still be “couple friends” when Celeste and Jesse really aren’t a couple anymore.
Celeste tells herself that she’s fine with it, but she soon finds out that she really isn’t. She dates a couple of losers and gets even more depressed. Things are starting to fall apart at work, when she always seemed so in control before. In fact, that’s been part of the problem, really: always in control, always on top, and the one to scold and lecture strangers who cut in line. Celeste has to learn that not only can she not control everyone and everything around her, she can’t even control herself. And she doesn’t even realize how condescending she’s been until someone she thought was a dummy points it out to her as her “lonely little island.” Yeah, it’s tough being smarter than everyone else, and even tougher when they know you know that, and they think of you as arrogant and isolated.
Well, there’s being right, and there’s being happy, and sometimes they seem to be mutually exclusive, especially when it comes to control issues in a relationship. And where is Jesse during all this? Bumbling around somewhere with his new girlfriend, not certain if he’s ready to suddenly assume fatherly responsibilities, but hey, Celeste always said she wasn’t ready, right?
The viewer is in a bit of a dilemma here. Are we supposed to root for this doomed relationship? Root for the people in it as individuals but hope they realize they are better when they’re not together? Or are we just supposed to laugh at the jokes and “adult situations” and throw up our hands at the end, and say something like, “Well, life is complicated, isn’t it, and so is love.”
Yeah, right. This is one of those “character development” kind of movies where the events are not exactly Pollyanna, but they feel real. Real enough to hurt to watch.
Ronald P. Salfen is minister of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.