Think divorce is hard on the kids? Imagine what it does to a romantic comedy.
The amicable, bittersweet “Celeste and Jesse Forever” copes as best it can.
Actress Rashida Jones (NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”), in her screenwriting debut, hands herself a calling-card role as Celeste, a Type-A professional trend-spotter who fears that her comfortable marriage to artist/slacker Jesse (a toned down Andy Samberg) has run its course.
Childhood sweethearts, Celeste and Jesse are the sort who amuse themselves at parties with private jokes and cutesy accents. Dinner companions squirm in discomfort.
Not even pending divorce can pop their cloying little bubble: They’re separated (not by much: he lives in a bungalow behind her L.A. home) because she is ready for a grown-up life and he doesn’t even have “a checking account or dress shoes.”
Apparently Jesse doesn’t have condoms either. A one-night stand during his time off from Celeste has resulted in both a pregnancy and domestic life that doesn’t include his soul mate.
Jones and her writing partner (and former beau) Will McCormack tinker with rom-com conventions to question the sustainability of love and affection when life intervenes, and their movie is brave enough to follow through.
But bravery isn’t enough. “Celeste and Jesse Forever” aims for “Annie Hall” poignancy, but director Lee Toland Krieger pushes too hard, with one close-up after another all but demanding that we fall in love with Jones.
That shouldn’t require such a hard sell. Jones is likeable, maybe even lovable, but her co-written script feels self- indulgent, packed with drunk scenes and teary breakdowns that undercut the “and Jesse” part of the title.
Samberg, if hardly a nuanced actor, reins in his usual face-making, and Emma Roberts does a fine turn as a petulant Hollywood starlet who forms an unlikely bond with Celeste. The ubiquitous Chris Messina is nicely low-key as Celeste’s practice boyfriend, and co-writer McCormack is funny as a loutish pal. Elijah Wood, as Celeste’s gay colleague, seems lost in a glorified cameo.
Playing Hannibal Lecter didn’t typecast Anthony Hopkins forever.
Still, watching Hopkins in “360” -- as a bereaved father delivering a long, lugubrious monologue at an A.A. meeting (and done very skillfully) -- it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for Hannibal the Cannibal.
The distant inspiration is the daisy chain of lovers in Arthur Schnitzler’s “Reigen” (or “La Ronde”), the turn-of- the-20th-century sex drama that scandalized Vienna.
“360” presents sex the way movies about addiction tend to present heroin or crack: You see the terrible consequences, but not the pleasure that would lead anyone to do drugs in the first place.
If you came from a distant planet where intercourse was unknown, you’d have no idea why the people in this movie go to so much trouble in its pursuit. Sex looks like something to be avoided, like trans fats.
The characters include a Slovakian hooker, an Austrian pimp, a Russian gangster and an array of philandering spouses and lovers. Among the fine actors, in addition to Hopkins, are Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Ben Foster.
The filmmakers’ principal device is to drop us among circumstances so menacing that, when the very worst doesn’t happen, we feel grateful that the human situation they’ve left our noses pressed into is merely stinky.
Probably in homage to Schniztler, the movie opens and closes in Vienna. Other locations include Bratislava, Paris, London, Denver and Phoenix. Not one of them looks like anywhere you’d want to be.
“360,” from Magnolia Pictures, opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ** (Seligman)
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To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org. Craig Seligman at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.