I had been waiting to see this movie since I heard the rumor that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were thinking about maybe writing a third installment in the series. If you’re not familiar with the first two movies, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, this is where I tell you:
On my Top 100 Movies list, these would be 1 and 2, respectively. Yes, they’re about love, but fuck you, all there is, is love. These movies capture and amplify that magic that exists in the every-day decisions that make up one’s life. They’re perfection, each one. Go watch them; you can thank me later with emojis.
There’s no way to write this review without dishing out a spoiler or two so consider yourself warned.
Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine’s (Julie Delpy) story is too good not to share. If you want the maximum effect, (I know, my nerd is showing.) watch these movies with a friend who likes a good indie film or better yet, watch them alone. Take your time with these characters; walk with them, listen-in on their conversations. When you’re ready, come back to me and we’ll talk about the effect Celine’s song had on Jesse’s life.
All these movies are about one thing, the relationship between the lead characters. They first meet on a train, a chance encounter played out in Vienna. They meet again, 9 years later, in a Paris bookshop because life is funny that way. We meet up with both Jesse and Celine in Before Midnight, 9 years after their second encounter in Paris and 18 years after they first met on a train, somewhere near Vienna.
We find Jesse in Greece; he’s dropping his kid off at the airport. Jesse no longer lives in the United States. He lives somewhere in Europe and his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) , does not. Hank has just wrapped up “the best summer [of his] life” and it’s clear that he will miss his dad. He’s a good kid, sensitive to his dad’s neuroses and strong enough to convey a certain wisdom and empathy despite his age. Hank is the kind of kid any parent would be proud to call their own; he’s clever, thoughtful, conflicted and kind. It’s easy to understand why Jesse is so concerned about missing out on the life his son leads in between the summers they share.
After a good talk, Jesse bids Hank a bon voyage and leaves the airport to hop in his car. As he gets in, we see Celine in the passenger seat and their twin girls in the back. This was the first time my heart skipped a beat. They were together at last, doing regular people things, dropping kids off at airports, weighing the pros and cons of a new job, living life like the rest of us. They made it, they found their “soul mate” and they made it. I was excited.
…And then I wasn’t.
Jesse and Celine are on vacation this time. They’re staying with new friends in Greece far from the fast, loud and busy lives they lead in Paris. In the Southern Peloponnesian Islands, they are able to disconnect. In disconnecting they are better able to absorb their new surroundings and friends. Through their conversations with these friends, Jesse and Celine revisit the story that begins with them on a train in Austria. Over wine and dinner, the intricacies that make up life are discussed, thus sowing the seeds of contemplation.
Jesse and Celine are just as charming as you might have imagined they’d be as a proper couple. They’re intriguing, passionate, funny and engaging. They clearly like one another, but if you are a fan of the previous films, you know something is amiss. Something unspoken again lingers in the air. The stolen glances this time, more cynical than sincere. It’s crushing because it’s reality and I thought that if I could escape reality with anyone, it would be these two.
They inhabit a magical land where everything is interesting and time whizzes by so fast, you feel like you’re floating along in a dream. Actually, that’s wrong…
Jesse and Celine used to inhabit a magical land; now, they’re vacationing in a beautiful land with real world problems. Celine jokes early on in the movie that she has identified the moment where everything changed between her and Jesse, where the magic cracked and resentment began to seep in. As it turns out, she wasn’t really joking after all. The minutia and the chafing nature of quotidian life have worn away the magic that brought them together. Life, it seems, has gotten in the way of their beautiful. This realization was the second time my heart skipped a beat.
Jesse and Celine are so busy and stressed out that they could use a vacation from their vacation. Lucky for them, their friends Ariadni (Athina Rachel Tsangari) and Stefanos (Panos Koronis) hold them in such high regard that they gift them a night at a local hotel so that they might re-connect and relax away from their kids and responsibilities. Thanks to Ariadni and Stefanos, we are able to re-claim Jesse and Celine for ourselves. Alone, their conversations are unguarded, yet carefully and colorfully worded. They are ours for the taking. It’s here where we really get a sense of what’s changed between them and what that means for their relationship.
Before Midnight is the story of what happens when real life seeps in.
You would think that because I have nerdgasams to Before Sunrise and Sunset, I would instantly love this new installment. Hell, I can attribute many a lady-nerd-boner to some of the better lines in these films. What I’m saying is this; I think my expectations might have been a tad high going in. Here’s the fucked up part:
I enjoyed the movie; I liked it a lot. ‘Like,’ being the operative word here.
I’m supposed to love this movie, that’s just the way it is. I’ve known these two characters for almost twenty years. They were that place that I ran off to; when I needed to believe in magic again, connections with real people, impressions and good conversations. Their world was this snow globe that I’d shake up and stare into every now and again and they were perfect in a bubble that only they could inhabit.
In Before Midnight, Jesse and Celine are no longer perfection and they’re almost never alone. You don’t get to saturate yours senses in their conversation, the entire time and maybe that’s what did it for me. When I first stood up and walked out of the theater, I was confused and surprised that I didn’t immediately love what I’d just seen. I knew I liked Before Midnight, but I thought we would only ever be friends and never intimate the way I had been (and still am) with the other two films. That realization was a bit of a let down and as I tried to formulate my thoughts and assign this movie a grade, I decided I needed to think about it for a while.
A week later, I found clarity and I’m not sure how the light bulb went off, I just know that it did. What had initially bothered me about the movie was the real world aspect of the relationship between the lead characters. It’s trite, but they’re soul mates and that’s glorious, so to see them bicker about what city to live in, what job to take and each other’s short comings; well, it kind of mucked it all up for me. Fortunately, I’m not a complete idiot and I finally realized that this had been the intent. I was meant to look into my snow globe, shake it up and see the cracks and the chipping paint. This was all just a friendly reminder that while life sucks in the details, those details are also where you look for the story and the magic. Not a damn thing in this world is perfect, but sometimes you can feel perfection anyway and that’s kind of amazing.
Ethan Hawke brings back everything about Jesse I loved in the first two films. He’s witty, funny, contemplative, romantic and real. He’s quite visibly flawed, but he knows it and that makes it easy to connect with his character. Jesse has always been a little bit of a jerk, but his positive qualities so far outweigh his jerkiness that he’s dreamy nonetheless. Hawke did not disappoint with this reincarnation of a beloved character.
Julie Delpy is one of my favorite actors. She’s strong, confident and exudes a sexiness that does not fade over time. She brings back a headstrong Celine who is opinionated, loud and sometimes difficult to understand. Delpy does what I’d hoped and she offers up a Celine that has maintained every ounce of fire and fight while holding together a household as well as hers and Jesse’s sanity. Celine’s charismatic-crazy lives on and I loved every minute of it.
Some might say I’m giving this one an A+ simply because it’s the third chapter in a cherished story, but that’s not the case. After much thought, I decided that a movie that can keep me thinking about its characters and story, a week after the credits have rolled, deserves an A+ for doing more that just entertaining me, but giving me something to think about. If you’re into independent films and romance doesn’t always make you want to puke in your shoes, you will want to check this out. I’m going to suggest you watch the other two movies first, but even if you don’t, you’ll still enjoy this one. The characters are relatable, the location is gorgeous and the supporting characters add a refreshing dimension to the film.
Before Midnight (2013) – A+
Just watch it; this one is that good and there isn’t much else to say about it other than that