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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

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Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in "Celeste and Jesse Forever," in theaters now.
Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in "Celeste and Jesse Forever," in theaters now.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" a mainstream rom-com in disguise

Most indie romantic comedies all start to read like a collection of remakes. Every one has the same set of characters with the same set of issues, working their same trendy jobs and hanging out with the same band of friends while the same indie soundtrack plays during montages.

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" is different in the fact that it's not an indie movie. Sure, it wears the disguise of one – the hip soundtrack, the intimate glamour-free camerawork – but the reality is this is just another mainstream rom-com about a working girl bumbling in love. If is starred Anna Faris or Katherine Heigl, trendy moviegoers wouldn't touch it.

Maybe that's not exactly fair (Faris and Heigl's films aim far lower than this and still struggle to hit that mark), but it hints at the insincerity of the whole project that refuses to let it feel as honesty and emotional as it desires.

Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star as the title duo, a recently divorced couple whose attempts to maintain their close friendship post-split is freaking out their best friends (Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen). They seem too comfortable; the two do everything together, act cutesy together and Jesse still lives in the small studio behind Celeste's house.

Their cozy post-divorce life gets unraveled when Jesse discovers a one-night stand from several months back resulted in a pregnancy. He'd like to make that relationship work, leading Celeste into a downward spiral of misguided dating experiences, soul-searching and a lot of ranch dressing.

Complicating matters is her job at a trend agency, managing a snotty, shrill teen music star. A game Emma Roberts plays the pop tart while an entertaining Elijah Wood plays her boss.

Much like "Lola Versus" from earlier in the summer, most of the film follows Celeste's attempts at getting back into the dating scene and embarrassing herself in the process. None of the sequences end up feeling particularly genuine nor end up especially funny.

It's the kind of bumbling one would expect to find in a second-rate "Bridget Jones" film, and the transition from capable business woman to weak insecure rom-com waif doesn't feel natural. The character is too smart to be falling out of garbage cans in the hopes of a laugh.

For that matter, so is Jones. The "Parks and Recreation" actress has been piling up minor roles in films, but this is her first real starring role (she also co-wrote the film). Her expressive face is always interesting to watch, and she's natural on screen, even when her character's actions seem less so.

She's also surrounded with a more than capable supporting cast. I've never personally been a fan of Samberg's work, both on screen and on "SNL," and the first chunk of the film, featuring German accents and inappropriate lip balm games, keeps him in his goofy comfort zone. As the film goes on and his character grows up, however, so does Samberg's performance. He's surprisingly earnest during the dramatic scenes, and he sparks significant chemistry with Jones.

Chris Messina, recently seen as Paul Dano's brother in "Ruby Sparks," provides some nice, effortless charm as one of Celeste's few solid potential dating options. He's carving out a nice place for himself in Hollywood as a more dramatically capable version of Paul Rudd.

These performances create a few satisfying emotional sequences – an unexpected late night visit, a fight near the end – but the movie around them feels less honest. Of course Jesse and Celeste have trendy artsy jobs. Of course Celeste goes to a spontaneous quirky costume party.

Thankfully, the chemistry-filled performances and few genuine moments make "Celeste and Jesse Forever" pleasant enough, but it's not what it thinks or wants itself to be. It's like a hipster buying up all of the thick-framed glasses and skinny jeans in order to compensate for the fact that he has Katy Perry on his iPod.

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