Before Midnight (2013) / Drama

MPAA rated: R for sexual content, nudity, and language
Running time: 109 min.

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Xenia Kaologeropoulou, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Walter Lassally, Yiannis Papadopoulis, Ariane Labed, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Prior, Charlotte Prior
Director: Richard Linklater

Screenplay: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Review published June 18, 2013

Before Midnight 2013 Delpy HawkeLet me stop those interested here by telling you that, before you read this review, that I strongly recommend watching the film first. And if you haven't seen them, you must also see Before Sunrise and Before Sunset before you watch Before Midnight. You will thank me for this once you're done, as the best part about this unlikely idea for a trilogy comes in not knowing what the future holds with each successive entry.   While I do my best to not spoil films I review without telling you, just knowing about what the basic story is about in Before Midnight not only is too much information about this film, but will likely spoil the first two entries as well.

Before Midnight is the third in the Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly, Bad News Bears) series of romantic dramas featuring Ethan Hawke (Sinister, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead) and Julie Delpy (2 Days in Paris, Broken Flowers), who also share screenwriting credits, though much of their dialogue is improvised with actors' personal anecdotes and beliefs. Each entry is set nine years apart, with each title showcasing the hours before a certain time of day. Some might see the title, Before Midnight, as a bad omen for the relationship, as midnight has some negative connotations, including one to a certain "Cinderella story" that sees the magic disappear at the stroke of twelve.

Some viewers may consider this third entry as anticlimactic, as the two lovers no longer are romantically falling in love. Both of the previous films saw them connect as a potential new couple, but we're not 100% sure if they'll end up together.  In Before Midnight, they're an old couple now, and we realize a fundamental truth about long-term romantic entanglements.  Now in their early 40s, Celine and Jesse have been with each other for several years, and while, in general, movies often push forward the notion that when two people get together in a romance that it will be happily ever after, in reality, it's hard work to try to make a relationship continue to be viable year after year.  Kissing and handholding has been replaced with cautious conversation and petty bickering.  As viewers, while we hoped the two would find a way to bridge their divides and come together, in Before Midnight, we just hope all of these small issues don't blow up to the point where they find they just can't stand one another.

As has been the custom with the other films, much of Before Midnight is shot with long takes, usually with two characters just walking or dining, and having conversations as they stroll along. Both main characters are intelligent, wise, and opinionated, which makes their observations fascinating to listen to as a reflection of fundamental truths about life and love. The entirety of the film takes place in just a handful of scenes, with each scene one long conversation about a variety of subjects, many of them personal and somewhat voyeuristic, as if we're eavesdropping on a real-life couple about things they'd never dare display in public.

Conversations include Jesse agonizing over desiring to be closer to the son in Chicago he had from his first marriage, as he left the United States in order to try to make a life with Celine. Meanwhile, Celine is stressing herself about a possible change in her career. All of these stresses soon threaten to boil over as the relationship undergoes more than a bit of strain, all the while they are slated to have a romantic evening to themselves at the tail end of their vacation in Greece, though neither seems keen on the idea, perhaps knowing that it's difficult to rekindle a romance after a day, among many, of getting on one another's nerves.  Interestingly, this film introduces other couples by contrast, one represented as young lovers at the start, like they were long ago, another couple around their age who still find a system to make their differences not overtake them, and a couple of older, single people whose loves are behind them.

Before Midnight is a richly developed and realistically delivered drama that effectively captures the sacrifices it takes to make love work for the long term. The wide-eyed innocent romance has made way for petty squabbles and often rough conversations in which the two must seemingly traverse a mine field of potential problematic issues in order to have simple conversations. One gets the feeling that each partner's nerves are frayed, just simply dealing with this other person on a day in and day out basis.  If there's one unrealistic aspect to the film, it's that some of the lengthy conversations that they have with one another seem like ones they would have had long ago, and not after nearly a decade of living with one another.  Artistic license may be in order for the greater good of the elements of interest these discussions bear.

Linklater's film, as with his previous entries, is a subtle story, and some might think it is all about nothing, but that would be giving this incredible film unbelievably short shrift. It's really everything that matters, as whole conversations can lead to words that can make or break the strongest of relationships. Now entering middle age, it's either try to make love work, or be forced to start all over again and hope lightning can strike twice. The choices they've made in life they have to live with, and all of that baggage can sometimes seem like too much of a load to carry, even for two people.

Unfortunately, for those new to the series, you won't get to experience these films the way I did, watching them at a time when I was nearly the same age as the characters in the films at the same stage in my life, and with the same outlook, then waiting many years to find out what happens next, not knowing if there will even be a next one.  That magic can't be recreated for audiences watching all three films within days of each other, if not all in one day.  My young self probably could not appreciate a film as world-weary but still realistically hopeful as Before Midnight, while my older self might be a bit more cynical about the fairy-tale possibilities that exist for the characters in Before Sunrise.  Nevertheless, even if you watch them all in one chapter of your life, they're worth revisiting when you enter the next one, and perhaps then you'll see just why these films are regarded as singular masterworks on the nature of love and relationships at various stations in life.

It's uncertain if we'll see another entry in nine years, but I certainly hope we do. Even though we've spent less than six years following the on-again, off-again relationship of Celine and Jesse, we feel like we know them through their very personal conversations we might not even get to see from good friends of ours.  I think this will resonate with couples to know that what they feel is what we all feel, and their issues are things that nearly every couple must go through to find a lasting relationship, even when the future is no longer a blank slate.  Even if you feel disenchanted that life is no longer viewed with rose-colored glasses, if you find after viewing Before Midnight that you look at your significant other with renewed love for who they are, flaws and all, and know you'd do it all over again, then Linklater, Hawke and Delpy have done their job.  I think they did it quite well, myself.

 Qwipster's rating:

2013 Vince Leo