The third and possibly final installment of a twenty-year filmmaking project, Before Midnight ends with a dose of despair and laughter. Oh wait, no, sorry, just despair.
Before Midnight is a movie that probably should never have been made. Linklater’s other two hits, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, are fine and dandy on their own. If you’ve never seen those two, they’re about the same characters (Jesse and Celine), played by the same actors (Ethan Hawke and July Delpy), who meet in Europe and spend a few hours together. Once in 1994 and once in 2004. Both films have similar tone—the two walk around a town, forging a romantic connection with an endless series of conversations. Ugh, it sounds so, so terrible when you put it like that. But Celine and Jesse really do like to talk, mostly about their philosophies on love, anecdotes about literary figures, and pretty much what it’s like to be a smarter human than everyone else they know. It’s about connections, man. You can make them when you find someone willing to listen to your minutia and not push you into a charming medieval German gutter. But can you keep up those deep connections? CAN YOU?
Before Sunrise says “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Before Sunset, in which the two meet again after Jesse writes a book about the former experience, says “Sort of! But will it last??”
Before Midnight rolls it eyes and is like “Does anything last? Romance is dead. Get out of my face.”
Jesse and Celine are now in their early forties and look it, refreshingly (although someone made some poor decisions about Hawke’s hair, someone who was trying to recapture his Reality Bites days). They’ve got two kids of their own and are facing the realities of middle age. For a few hours, they decide to take an evening off from parenthood and…stroll around together in a European town THIS IS STARTING TO LOOK FAMILIAR.
As 20-somethings they were pretentious but hopeful, at 30 they were wistful and wise, but at 40…they’re pretty much over it. They’re so normal, it hurts to watch. Stresses of having young kids and the stresses of former spouses and the stresses of changing careers…it’s all too real to this normal gal. It doesn’t help that the climax of the film (if that’s not too much of a stretch) is one of those quagmire fights where nobody is getting anywhere and maybe nobody even wants to.
The thing is, I walked out of the theater really liking it! 24 hours later, I’m annoyed that the multi-decade journey on which Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have been leading us1 has resulted in this muddy and cold puddle of stark reality. THIS is where we’ve been headed all along? THIS is why we marathon-watched the two precursors one weekend alone with a bottle of wine that just kept getting lighter?
Before Midnight is a perfectly fine movie with impeccable performances and a setting that’s to-die-for. It’s just that the constant tension that kept the other two movies afloat was never written in. It truly is just a couple of discussions, then one big marriage fight, then the credits.
I mean, spoiler alert, I guess? And there’s no re-scheduled flight or train to catch, so they actually can take as much time as they want. Wooooo! More walking and talking! Reflecting how full of romance their lives used to be. Basically squandering a nice night, like we all do in a long relationships, because we are tired/hungry/upset and we have a bone to pick that just won’t stop pickin’.
Like I said, wooooo. A movie encouraging me to either get divorced or make the most of it and stick around for the kids. Not sure I like those odds.
— ∮∮∮ —
Why you should see this movie
You’re a huge fan of the first two, and you want to see what happens.
Why you should stay home
They show you what happens.
— ∮∮∮ —
- Slowly, very slowly. With copious stops along the way, so you can argue about Tolstoy or the concept of a soul mate. ↩