Before Midnight (2013)

16 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Eighteen years ago, in “Before Sunrise,” Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met in their early-20s and were only able to spend one night of conversation and romance. Nine years later, in “Before Sunset,” they were reunited, realizing their mistake of never sharing ways of contact, and thinking this is a second chance for them to be together. That film ended with a delightfully ambiguous ending, though with most of us leaning towards the possibility that they do ultimately end up together. These were two nice, likable people who liked each other and we, while watching them, enjoy their chemistry and could listen to them for another hour-and-a-half. And granted, that extra hour-and-a-half is given to us…nine years later, but still it’s nice to catch up with these two people.

So, nine years since “Before Sunset,” we meet yet again with Jesse and Celine in “Before Midnight.” There’s an indication that every nine years, director Richard Linklater and co-writers Hawke and Delpy will create another “Before” story that will catch up with these two characters in their relationship. We could see them grow old together and it’d be fine because they’re both so appealing together.

However, in “Before Midnight,” that appeal is not entirely seen anymore. This is especially true if this third film is your introduction to the series. To be honest, I think that if you watch this film as a stand-alone story, you’d appreciate more of the craftsmanship and acting than the characters themselves and their relationship. Let me explain—Jesse and Celine are still together and have been for nine years (and they have two daughters and live in Paris, France), and so, instead of the usual nonsense they love to talk about, they instead bicker about issues involving certain things in their lives. And when that happens, and it does get very, very rough as the film reaches its final half-hour, you start to wonder whether or not you want to listen to them anymore—the appeal that was present between the two in the previous films is now gone at this point, as their argument gets more and more ugly. They’re like a married couple—problems that they don’t know how to deal with that they have to talk about, which make them almost seem to hate each other while continuing to talk about them. Will something bring an end to it, will one be able to make amends with the other, is the spark between them still present or is it gone—how will this argument end?

I’m getting ahead of myself here. “Before Sunset” had Jesse and Celine reconnected with each other after nine years of separation. In “Before Midnight,” they’ve spent the past nine years together. Like any long-term committed couple, they have much difficulty coping with life with each other. They’ll sometimes talk a little nonsense every now and then, but there’s a hint that the relationship is harsher than they thought it would be. Happy days, for the most part, are behind them.

Much like the previous films, everything seems very natural in a film that is mostly composed of dialogue. All of these are driven with dialogue throughout very long takes, giving more of the illusion of eavesdropping than arguably any other movie that attempts to be very truthful. It helps that Hawke and Delpy themselves co-write the screenplay along with Linklater, and because they know their characters so well, they’re able to improvise in their conversations onscreen. Linklater simply lets the camera follow them as they interact naturally—a simple yet effective move.

The issues they deal with seem very real. With Jesse, in particular, it’s the feeling of resentment after divorcing his ex-wife to be with Celine, thus not seeing his 14-year-old son from the previous marriage as much as he wants to. He wants to move to Chicago to be closer to him and not miss any important moments that a father should live for; Celine has a new job to think about, and also is not particularly fond of moving away from her home. This leads to the centerpiece conversation, which is essentially a heated argument between Jesse and Celine in a hotel room. It’s quite ugly and not entirely appealing, but it is all too real. This is a couple’s conflict with a very natural feel that can’t be denied. You get the feeling every couple has been through this. And here, having known Jesse and Celine from this “Before” series, there is a real tension of whether or not this argument will be the end of this relationship.

Yes, “Before Midnight” is certainly the darkest tone of this film-series. It’s as realistic as the previous film, but for different reasons. Jesse and Celine may have met in a pleasant chat, but long since then, their relationship has been reduced to bitterness that can come with real life. Sometimes the truth hurts, and in films, it can be told in a powerful way. As a result, “Before Midnight” may not be the most appealing of the series in that sense, but it is all too effective.

Will there be another “Before” chapter in 2022? I wonder.

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