Before Midnight, Review

A bittersweet ending to a glowing trilogy

Trying to put into words my feelings on Before Midnight has been an ever-daunting task. So much so that it is only now, a month after seeing, ruminating and taking notes on the film, that I have finally been able to come up with the one word to describe it better than any other: bittersweet. Richard Linklater’s third installment of his Before Sunrise trilogy seems to be characterized so fully by a permeating feeling of bitter-sweetness that even now I find it hard to escape. This sensation is not only hidden within the plot itself, but also in the circumstances surrounding the entire picture. After two installments, with a ten year filmic and narrative gap in between that documented the ill-timed love story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American student turned writer, and Celine (Julie Delpy), a French student turned songstress turned project manager, it is now time for the third and last film. Could it be that this is when these characters come to an end?! Operating within the same guidelines of the first two, Before Midnight is filmed ten years after Before Sunset and picks up with the characters also nearly a decade later. As I review this film, I do so by taking the other two films into consideration. I do not mean that if you have not seen the other two (please, dear God, see the other two!), Before Midnight is somehow incomprehensible or that this film’s merits are solely based on its predecessors. Rather, this film completes a trilogy. Therefore, it can be evaluated as a stand-alone film as well as one that is part of a greater series. With this review, I shall examine it in both ways.  Before Sunrise ends with Jesse and Celine, both in their 20s, vowing to meet in Prague six months after spending one romantic, slightly-neurotic evening together in Vienna. During Before Sunset, Jesse runs into Celine ten years later in France, after having missed their fateful reunion so many years before, at his own book signing event for a novel he wrote based on their one night romance. Jesse and Celine, now in their thirties, spend the day together before Jessie must board his flight and return home to his wife and son in America. Their day extends past its timeframe, and the film ends with Celine coyly telling Jessie that he is going to miss his flight. Set during one summer day in Greece, Before Midnight takes place much after the “happily ever after” portion of this love saga comes to an end. Now, a decade after Before Sunset, Celine and Jesse are in their 40s and have been together since that fateful day. Just what exactly took place between the last movie and now? Well, as the viewer learns, Jessie divorced his wife, sees his son only occasionally (usually on summer vacations) and has twin girls with Celine. When the movie opens, the two protagonists have moved past that lovey stage and have settled into the regular routine of trying to raise a family while also finding a way to make the relationship last. I know, I know…I, too wish the day Linklater chose to portray was in that coveted, highly romantic period. Instead, the viewer is privy to the intense feelings, emotions and arguments that go along with maintaining a 10-year relationship with a partner. Sounds like an upper, right?  Well, believe it or not, Before Midnight was anything but the light and fun portrait everyone thought it would be (not). Every scene seemed to either involve an argument or help lead to one. By the end of the film, I was exhausted, cranky and sad.  Yet, hear me out. This was not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it really did work in Before Midnight’s favor. Technically speaking, with such a broad range of emotional performance, the two lead actors shined. They truly did. Hawke and Delpy seemed to grow up as much as their characters did since the last installment. And with this maturity (presumably both in their real lives and their onscreen lives) came nuanced, realistic performances. Their riveting authenticity also played a hand in Before Midnight’s superior character development, which is in no way limited to this film in the series, but rather is the culmination of a through-line traced back to the beginning of the trilogy. In addition to being a testament to the trilogy’s strong performances, the amazing growth of character should be largely credited to the writers of the film, which include Linklater, Delpy, Hawke and Kim Krizan. In a trilogy devoted to the development of two characters in relation to one another, all seen in one-day installments over a period of twenty years, writing is really all you have. Luckily, the writing in this film proved to be just like the rest: strong, talented and complex. And yet, it is the complexity of that same scripting which led to the film’s inherent bitter-sweetness. That is, through all the dialogue and arguments, the viewer starts to see the signs that perhaps Celine and Jesse’s relationship is just as flawed as the rest of ours. A novel idea to show reality, right? Well, yes. While I definitely did feel like I was watching moments that might as well have been taken directly out of my own life, I am not sure I ever wanted to see Celine and Jesse as real people. After all, their love story was so fairy tale-eque; was it too hard to request a similar ending? Perhaps, but I digress. What we are left with is a film that stands alone as a good movie. Not a great one, but a good one. With strong performances and characters, Before Midnight should be seen by any movie fan who yearns to see a movie with some substance. Operating within the trilogy too, Before Midnight shines and rounds out this love story in a slightly unconventional, albeit sad way. Still, if I am looking for classic Celine and Jesse, I will turn to my favorite: Before Sunset.  Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars


3.5 out of 5