Distributors squeezed themselves into the packed-tight Eccles Center for the Performing Arts Saturday night for "Celeste and Jesse Forever," a rom-com with an exceedingly bankable cast that includes Rashida Jones (who co-wrote the film with Will McCormack), Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood and Emma Roberts.
Two predictions: Someone's going to buy it — and that someone will quietly return the film to the editing bay to tighten up the film's whiny, sluggish second half and make it as smart and funny as the film's first half.
Celeste (Jones) and Jesse (Samberg) have been together since they were teens, and the film opens with the two of them toddling around L.A., indulging in private jokes, ribbing each other, and generally acting like a couple. Except they're not, exactly — Celeste and Jesse are best friends, but they've also separated and are in the process of getting divorced.
("Separated" might be putting too fine a point on it, since Jesse has moved into the guest house out back.)
She's a type-A, Faith Popcorn–ish trend predicter (her new book is called "Shitegeist") and he's a slacker artist who says he's putting together a gallery show but would actually rather be surfing or just goofing off in general.
It's a bold move to make this a film about two people who have to learn to be apart, particularly when those two people share the chemistry that Jones and Samberg have in abundance. But once Jesse moves in with the woman (Rebecca Dayan) he's impregnated, and Celeste tries getting over him on a series of dates (most successfully with Chris Messina as one of her yoga classmates), "Forever" loses its steam and becomes yet another movie about whiny thirty-somethings figuring out how to grow up.
Wood and Roberts are amusing as, respectively, Celeste's co-worker and a Ke$ha-ish pop tart, but both characters are so extraneous to the plot that they'll be the first to go in the eventual TV and airplane edits.
Director Lee Toland Krieger ("The Vicious Kind") has a flair for presenting a kind of lived-in L.A., but he lets the pacing go way too slack in the film's latter half, dragging out the proceedings until they finally culminate in a slack ending.
Still, there's a very funny movie in here trying to get out, and there's no reason why some judicious cuts between Sundance and the film's eventual release couldn't turn this into a romantic comedy that's both bitingly funny and occasionally sniffle-inducing.