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Most romantic comedies end at the “and they lived happily together forever” part. Celeste and Jesse Forever actually starts exactly where that titular “Forever” ends. This is a delicate place to navigate, both in life and in movies (no wonder most stay away from it as far as they can) but I am happy to report that the smart, funny team behind this film handles it deftly and, in some ways, almost unforgettably.

But let’s start at the beginning (of the end): Celeste (Rashida Jones, who also cowrote the movie) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) met very young and married very young. Where we find them, after the opening credits  of a photo-montage at their glorious and goofy best times together, they are about to get divorced young.  But hey, here’s the catch: six years married, six months separated and they’re STILL best friends. And not just best friends, but the kind of best friends you can only be with someone who has known (and yes, loved)  you FOREVER).

So, naturally, you as a viewer have to ask: WHY? WHY ARE THEY APART? (an opinion voiced in the film by Ari Graynor, one of their best friends who poignantly wonders: “You guys are already best friends. THAT’S the hard part”)

The reasons (most of which seem to be Celeste’s) are myriad and mostly center around Jesse’s extended Peter Pandom and inability to, well, be the kind of man she thinks she deserves (“The father of my children WILL own a car”-she exclaims). She, of course, is the kind of overworked, slightly neurotic type we so often encounter in movies: career driven, almost-too-smart-for-her-own-good, always ON, always questioning. She is ok with any situation/challenge as long as she feels that she maintains the upper hand, and you can see that this is how she feels about Jesse still being around and obviously still carrying a torch for her. It’s cool, she’s STILL in control of the situation.

What happens next is both predictable and soul-crushingly relateable to anyone who ever thought they knew exactly what they were (emotionally) doing: she loses that upper hand. Jesse meets someone and through a set of unforeseen circumstances, Jesse is no longer there. And Celeste can’t handle it. After all, Jesse has ALWAYS been there. Jesse was, in fact, supposed to be there FOREVER, she realizes. After all, this is what always happen: you only appreciate what/who you had after you no longer have it/them. Story of everyone’s life.

I will not spoil the rest of the movie for you, but you should know that every turn these two take is both heartbreaking and hilarious, just the way loving and losing often is. The two leads are near perfect. Jones and Samberg have an easy, palpable chemistry, and while their comic timing is, as expected, impeccable, it is the dramatic moments where they really shine. Samberg, a revelation in his first ever even remotely serious role, has the kind of broad, open features that allow you to read his emotions like a book: the smiles are big, but the non-smiles read even bigger as a result. Jones, with her intelligent eyes and happy-sad smile, gives a master-class in what a female romantic lead in 2012 should be and (blessedly) the exact opposite of the manic pixie girl.

Their dynamic is aided by a capable supporting cast, most of which seem like they’ve actually known each other in real life for a while as well. Ari Graynor and Eric Christian Olsen are their soon-to-be-married best friends. Will McCormack (who co-wrote the script with Jones) is their pot-dealing, wisdom-sharing buddy Skillz. Chris Messina is the guy who hits on Celeste when she’s at her worst. Elijah Wood is Celeste’s business partner. Everyone seems very much at ease with each other, and creates a believable LA universe in which these people live, play, love, and lose. Just the way real life works, I guess.

The movie, it should be also noted, looks gorgeous, mostly shot on digital, in moody swirls of emotion and cinematography that makes you REALLY feel when the mood is grey or sunny.

As the movie ends, and Celeste comes maybe not full circle from where we found her but definitely more than half circle, you get a goosebump and you think to yourself: sure, there are no guarantees of FOREVER anymore, anywhere, but it is not impossible to pick yourself up and go at it all again. And it is that sense of (oddly realistic) hope that makes you realize that you’d rather have this kind of a bittersweet semi-happy but real-feeling ending than a saccharine-sweet, utterly fake one. And for that, Celeste And Jesse Forever deserves major kudos. If this is where romantic comedies in 2012 are heading, we’re more than happy to be along for the ride.