When I think of Andy Samberg, the first thing that comes to mind is "Jah! Rastafarianism!" from The Lonely Island SNL Digital Short Ras Trent. For others, it may be difficult to stare at his big goofy grin without thinking of other Lonely classics like Dick in a Box, Like a Boss and Motherlover.
So I was somewhat surprised to see Samberg co-starring in the Sundance darling Celeste and Jesse Forever, about a young couple trying to remain friends throughout a divorce. I love me some Samberg, but I couldn't really picture him tackling the dramatic scenes such a concept would surely require.
I never should have doubted the man who brought the world Ras Trent. While Samberg's character Jesse is pretty goofy for most of the flick, he's so believable during the emotional scenes you just want to reach into the screen and comfort the poor man as Celeste (Rashida Jones) crushes him over and over again.
While Samberg's dramatic scenes are well-executed, his goofier moments provide some much-needed levity to the rather heavy subject matter. After all, a movie about a break-up could easily be a huge downer that's difficult to watch. (Exhibit A: The Break-Up, starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn.)
Luckily, the screenwriters (Jones and Will McCormack, who has a very funny role as Celeste and Jesse's weird pot-dealing friend) were smart enough to weave some humor throughout the entire script -- even in the most awkward and sad moments. Seeing Jesse crying alone in his room could have just been incredibly depressing. Instead, we see Jesse crying alone in his room while watching re-runs of the Beijing Olympics. Still depressing, but also funny.
The best scenes are of Samberg and Jones joking around together. They invite the audience in to laugh along with their inside jokes, which is both hilarious and incredibly annoying at times. (Hilarious: they 'jerk off' inanimate objects. Incredibly annoying: they feverishly discuss a menu in faux German accents.)
Naturally, given the subject matter, Samberg's character is emotionally conflicted for most of the flick. He masters the subtle emotions well. We can tell when he's sad, confused, angry or irritated. He doesn't overact, and he's never one-dimensional.
This bodes well for Samberg's future post-SNL prospects. He's branching out beyond straight-up comedies relatively early on in his career. Now that he's demonstrated his range, we just might see him tackling even more dramatic roles in the not-so-distant future. (I would love to see him play a comic book villain or a deranged serial killer in a psychological thriller or a horror. Wouldn't he be the perfect horror movie antagonist? He's got that sweet, innocent face that could disarm his victims before he goes in for the kill.)
Of course, if he does branch out further, I hope he still has time for ridiculously funny movies like Hot Rod, the 2007 flick he worked on with his Lonely Island conspirators Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Samberg was hilarious as the hapless stuntman desperate to impress his abusive stepfather, played by a very intimidating Ian McShane.
I'd also love to see him collaborate with Adam Sandler again. Even though That's My Boy wasn't a box office hit, Sandler and his heir-apparent, Samberg, were great as the unlikely father-son duo. Samberg was the perfect straight man to Sandler's out-of-control party animal.
Whatever his next move is, Samberg's semi-dramatic turn in Celeste proves that he's got the acting chops to sustain him through a long and diverse post-SNL acting career.