It's a maxim we're all familiar with: "Can men and women be friends?" Popularized by 1989's "When Harry Met Sally" (of course) and explored by "Seinfeld" and "Friends" and -- probably -- your own life, the hypothetical has become a catch-22 for the modern rom-com. But what if it read differently? What if a pair of besties married and then tried to salvage their friendship?

A new indie starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg asks just that. From Lee Toland Krieger ("The Vicious Kind"), the film follows a BFF couple whose marriage has hit the skids. Co-written by Jones and Will McCormack, who dated each other before realizing they were better suited as friends, "Celeste and Jesse Forever" is a story about breaking up -- the long, gestating, solitary, drowning-your-sorrows-in-ranch-dressing break-up. And it's as funny as it is impossibly bleak, so much so that when Jones sat down with Moviefone, it almost turned into a cry-fest.

"Yeah, let's just cry. Just f-ck the interview," the "Parks and Rec" star said with a laugh. "Let's just cry and talk about relationships."

Instead of weeping, Jones spoke about her own emotional roller coaster while creating the film, the influence of Nora Ephron and her best-worst pick up story ever.

Do you see this film as a kind of opposition to the "When Harry Met Sally" adage of "Men and women can't be friends?" I wouldn't say an opposition as much as a continuation of the discussion, hopefully, in a way that's reflective of modern relationships. [Back] then, it was very much women coming into their own and because they were taking on these traditional male roles, they were also taking on these traditional male personal relationships, like, having friendships with men. I think this is the next level because we have these relationships that kind of define us, that would have been the version of your high school sweetheart. But it's just delayed now... So I feel like "When Harry Met Sally" asked, "Can men and women be friends?" and we're asking "Can you stay friends with your ex while you're getting a divorce?"

Well, the tagline for "When Harry Met Sally" is "Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?"And with this film it's like, "Can two friends marry each other and still be friends in the morning?" [Laughs] Oh, right, I forgot that was it... [Nora Ephron] shed light on [the topic] in a way that I don't think movies ever did before, where it's like men always want to have sex with you, even if they are your friends.

Nora Ephron... I'm still so sad about that. It's weird how, I feel like as a country we really mourned the loss of her in a way that didn't match our present appreciation of her before she passed away... She changed the whole landscape... [Her writing is] the reason I felt like there was a place for me in acting because it was that middle ground where it's real and it's also funny. But that kind of dialogue, it made me feel as a writer, there was a way for me to write a voice that didn't exist.

Your movie was really funny, but it was also incredibly sad. Was this a really hard film for you to make? Writing it, I was in a very dark place, processing a lot. And so, writing it, yeah. But, weirdly, writing it made the pain easier because I had somewhere to put it. To film it, it definitely was for me the first, I'm not a method actress. I'm pretty much a version of myself every time I'm in a movie or a TV show, and with this I was like, "Oh, I wonder how I'm going to prepare for this part. What will be my process?"...And then actually, the day I got to set until the day I wrapped, I was in a zone. I was kind of crying -- I was at some stage of crying at every point during the filming -- but it was great! It felt really good to be like, "F-ck it. I have a reason to cry and I have a reason to just like, sit on my emotions." I felt very protected.

Was Andy Samberg your first choice for your on-screen love interest? Andy and I've been friends for a long time and he came up early in conversation. He read the script as a friend. I just asked for his feedback and he really held it close to his chest. He didn't express interest right away. As the movie kind of took on a bunch of different iterations, I asked him. Be he hasn't ever done anything like this before, so you have to want to get into it, and I didn't know if he wanted to get into it, because he's so funny and he's so good and he's such a master that I didn't know if he had any aspirations to do any more dramatic stuff. And then he said to me, "Yes, I want to do this. I feel like I'm ready to do this."

Do you audition your friends? Like, how does that work? We just read together and he was so cool about it because he's so humble and he really loved the part and was like, "I got it." And he was right, he totally got it. But yeah, he was so cool about it. We went and we read, it wasn't like an audition, we just read to make sure that the dramatic chemistry was there. We knew that the other stuff was there because we've been friends for years...And then he killed, so, he won.

Was there ever an impulse for you to follow that classic rom-com path -- to give the audience what they wanted -- and just get these guys together? No. Will and I knew two things going into it: We knew we wanted it to be a movie that hopefully expressed the real trajectory of a heartbreak and the bottom of that -- what that actually looks like -- and we also knew that this was a movie about separation and about learning from somebody else to be on your own. Because that's the real lesson -- the sh--ty, hard, life lesson of being in your 30s -- becoming an adult is being cool alone.

And you made the stakes really high in this film, so it wasn't easy for you to be, like, nevermind! Love prevails! Totally. Because we also didn't want that because you see that so often in movies where you just do the easy thing to make people feel good. I understand the entertainment factor of films, like, we wanted to have comedy in it...

And it was really funny! But not enough to make you not depressed about it.

Well, the film pinpoints what's difficult about the loss of a relationship: losing a friend. Yeah, totally. It sucks; it sucks! And because we wrote it in a place where I was in pain, it was so important for me to try to crystallize that in a way that felt relatable.

Did you ever feel weird putting yourself out there in such a way? I definitely did not feel comfortable at Sundance. Like, the first time a big group of people saw my performance and I was sitting in the middle of that, that kind of sucked. I felt panic about it, it was really weird.

You and Will dated very briefly awhile ago, so how much of this was you two? The friendship -- the Andy and I friendship -- is very much Will and I. Like, the way we talk to each other, the way we jerk off tiny vegetables...

That's a running joke throughout the movie -- you two jerking off vegetables or vaseline tubes -- but you actually do that in real life? Yeah. We do it a lot.

You must go through a lot of vaseline tubes We usually go for bigger, farmer's market vegetables. We aim big and then we get smaller. It's usually vegetables. The vaseline was for the movie; that was a special thing for the movie.

The scene where Chris Messina is picking you up in the yoga studio, has anything like that ever happened to you? What's your best-worst pick up ever? Oh, my god. It wasn't like a full-blown pick up, but I was in Vegas, on New Years Eve, a couple years ago and this guy was hammered and he came up to me and my friends and he was like "Oh, my god...I'm like the are my favorite actress of all time. I just want to take a picture of you. Can I just, like, hang out with you?" Just gushing and gushing and at the end, he was like, "So, what's your name again?"

"Celeste and Jesse Forever" opens in limited release on Friday, August 3.

categories Movies