Relationships blossom and thrive or they fizzle and die. But writers Will McCormack and Rashida Jones - who also stars as the female half of Celeste and Jesse Forever - have another take on it.
They smartly surmise that the best break-ups happen when the love remains.
After six years of marriage, Celeste and Jesse (Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg) have been separated for six months. What drives their friends and co-workers crazy is that their bond is only severed by semantics and an unsigned decree of divorce. They're still good friends, hanging out together and even living on the same plot of land - she in the house, he in the backyard art studio in which he seldom makes anything. (He's kind of an adorable slacker.) If they're intent on really cracking their personal codes on conduct, they certainly hide it well.
But they begin to wonder if their friends are right and ask themselves and each other if they should go ahead and get on with their lives. They try dating and of course it goes disastrously, which only keeps poking at their curiosity about whether or not they should get back together. When a one-night stand of Jesse's turns up pregnant, he is the first to assert the need to truly separate. He wants to be a good dad and see if there's a life for him without Celeste. Yet he's sad and she's sadder and their sporadic, awkward meetings provoke testy exchanges constructed of words and hurts that sting like iodine.
The well-balanced screenplay and director Lee Toland Krieger succeed at raising the film an emotionally charged step above typical cutesy romantic comedies (though there's a little gesture - an ersatz hug - the title characters make to each other in the first ten minutes that is thankfully abandoned). There's heft and depth in the writing; it's sweet, barb-wired, and profane exactly where it needs to be. And Krieger alternates earned close-ups and jiggly hand-held camera shots in a way that heightens the viewers' sense of intimacy.
Jones is droll and sarcastic on the very funny sitcom Parks and Recreation and has a little of that mojo here. But she also exhibits a range we haven't seen before. She's particularly skilled in the latter half of the film, when her cheery (and stunningly beautiful) face reads more as a fortress made of flesh, trying hard to not let the world see her broken heart.