REVIEW: “Before Midnight”

BEFORE POSTER

It’s hard to believe that its been almost 20 years since we first met Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Cèline (Julie Delpy) on that train from Budapest to Paris. The two hopped off in Vienna which spawned one of the most engaging romances ever to grace the big screen. Nearly 10 years would pass before the two would meet again in “Before Sunset”, a smart and enthralling sequel that only caused audiences to fall for these two and their story even more.

Now jump ahead another 9 years. Director Richard Linklater again teams up with Hawke and Delpy to show us where Jesse and Cèline’s lives have taken them. Fans of this series understand that the less you know going in the better so I’m staying far away from details. But to set things up the film starts with Jesse putting his son Hank on a plane back to his mother after spending the summer together. Jesse and Hank’s mother have divorced and their relationship is strained at best. Hank’s departure leaves Jesse with a torrid whirlwind of emotions that swirl throughout the entire film and serve some pretty key plot points later in the film.

As Jesse leaves the airport we see Cèline standing by a car waiting along with two lovely little girls. We find out the two have been together since the last film and, along with Hank, they all have spent several weeks together on the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. We learn all of this in the first few minutes of the film and I’m not going any further than that. As I mentioned, this is a story best appreciated with little to no knowledge of where its going. It uses many of the same familiar narrative structures of the previous films while also making a few pretty big departures. At times it’s just as captivating as the previous films and these two characters are still fascinating. Yet with those things being true, there is still a sense that this is a film deeply connected to the other films but somehow lacking in key areas.

Before 2

First the good. We get to spend more time with Jesse and Cèline. I swear I could listen to these two talk for hours. And there is a lot of talking. Where big-budget movies move from one large action set piece to another, the “Before” pictures move from one long conversation to another. But fans know these conversations are simply absorbing. Nothing has changed here. Another fluid and sharp script is put together and the rich, natural performances from Hawke and Delpy make the exchanges between these two work brilliantly. We are cleverly told of how their lives have transpired and we watch as they take some difficult turns. The conversations feature different tones that we haven’t seen before but they remain utterly enthralling.

Another big plus is how well connected it is with the previous two films. That may sound like simple praise but this trilogy is unique in that it’s impossible to separate them from one another. In fact, that’s the big thing that makes this a hard movie to review. It’s so deeply rooted in the other two movies that it’s difficult to judge it as a standalone film. But that connectedness is also what makes it so alive and vibrant. I was so anxious to see these characters again because of their past and my investment in it. I also genuinely care for them and watching some of the things play out in “Before Midnight” is crushing yet I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

Yet while I was hooked on every exchange between Jesse and Cèline and their story was of great interest to me, there were a few things that set this film apart but not always for the better. For me the intimacy and romance I was so fond of wasn’t as powerful here. Now understand I’m not saying it’s nonexistent. We certainly get it in doses. It’s just in a different stage. I realize that the specific story directions understandably soak up some of the romance. But some of it is missing and I found myself longing for it.

BEFORE 1

There also seems to be a constant preoccupation with sex in nearly every conversation. Hopefully I won’t be judged for this but I grew a little tired of it. The characters seem fixated on it and they kept beating that same drum throughout the entire film. Unlike the other movies where the dialogue seamlessly and gracefully flowed with no feeling whatsoever that it was scripted, here the constant jabber about sex felt so contrived. I also missed the sense of location that permeated “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”. Vienna and Paris were used subtly in those films but to great effect. Here we get brief looks at the Greek locations but nothing of any value. To be fair, Linklater isn’t trying to make a large visual impression with his camera but I still missed that component.

While this series has been called “The Before Trilogy” by some I hope that’s not the case. The ending isn’t nearly satisfying enough to end a trilogy but more importantly I want to see Jesse and Cèline again. I know I’ve voiced some frustrations with this film but it’s far from being bad. In fact there are several scenes that I absolutely adored. But I can’t shake some of my issues with it – issues that don’t make it a poor film, but they do make it a lesser chapter in this overall captivating love story. But true love can hit a few rough patches doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s what we get here.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

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30 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Before Midnight”

    • They really are magical. Beautiful joined together to form one great romantic piece. This one was missing a little of what I loved about the others but its still a good flick.

  1. never seen any of these and I feel like i’m missing something the rest of the world got on to years ago. Heard good things overall on this one and your score seems fair so I think i need to get on this bandwagon!?

  2. Great write up Keith. Personally, I loved this and thought it was the best of the three. It felt a lot more grounded in reality than the other two and slightly less fairytale. I totally get what you mean about their preoccupation with sex though. I was a little taken aback how openly they discussed it, especially with a group of people they don’t actually know that well. And I’m a little torn on the ending. Part of me was disappointed with how abruptly and ambiguously it ended, but part of me thinks it worked perfectly. We don’t know what’s going to happen with them but you could take that as a metaphor for any relationship; you simply don’t know how it’s going to pan out.

    • I wanted to absolutely love it but I just couldn’t. And it’s interesting, I didn’t see the others as fairytale necessarily. There were always looming questions hanging over them. Especially in Before Sunset where their lives were so troubled.

      As for the sex conversation, For me it wasn’t that they were just open about it. They joke about it constantly in practically every conversation. Not every other conversation. Even in the car with the kids or the ladies preparing the meal, it’s constant. And for me that really stood out where as in the other films I just got lost in the natural flow of the conversations. Don’t get me wrong, we get a lot of that here too. But I was very aware of some of the things that were putting in this script.

      As for the ending, the ambiguity is one thing. But there is such a massive shift in emotions. I really don’t want to say much more, but there is such a huge change in tone that I’m not sure is that realistic or that works that well.

      I hate dancing around spoilers! 🙂

      • Haha, I know what you mean about spoilers but I know exactly what you’re talking about in the film. It did take me by surprise how things suddenly changed and I definitely think it could have been handled a bit better to be honest. I don’t know whether they just didn’t know how to end it but it didn’t quite fit. I wasn’t hugely bothered by it though.

        Now that I’m thinking about the sex thing, it really was virtually every conversation. There was even that bit in the church where Celine made that gesture.

        Still, I thought it was great and I liked how they brought in other characters. I wasn’t sure if that’d work but I think it definitely helped the film having them bounce off other people as well as each other.

      • And there were several scenes that I thought were just brilliant. I may not have stressed that strongly enough in the review. Hawke and Delpy are simply amazing.

  3. Awesome! I have yet to watch any of these movies, though I have the first two chilling around. Everyone raves about them, and they seem like they could be awesome. Gotta see this!

  4. Great post, Keith. I have always liked Ethan Hawke and felt he was underrated. I haven’t seen this yet, but it’s on the list. I better watch the whole trilogy again, because it’s all rather fuzzy. Of the three, then, which is your favorite?

    • I’m really attached to “Before Sunset” for a variety of reasons. I love how it makes the first film so much better. I also love the way it shows the the changes in their lives all because of the choices made at the end of the first film. I also loved the way Paris plays in the background of the entire picture.

      But they all work together to form this beautiful romantic portrait.

  5. Good review Keith. I loved the hell out of this movie and by the end, I seriously couldn’t contain my emotions any more. Sad, but honest and beautiful as well.

    • I really liked it myself. I just wish I could have absolutely loved it. Unfortunately it’s missing a few things for me and that ending is a little too questionable. Still these are fascinating characters to watch and follow.

  6. Nice review, Keith. I didn’t really notice an excessive amount of sex talk in this one — everything still felt as smooth and natural as ever, I thought. Glad you were still able to enjoy the film though. And I’m with you on hoping we haven’t seen the last of these two!

    • The sex talk really stood out to me to the point of feeling intentional. It’s literally in every conversation sometimes really standing out as unusual to me. For me that slightly took away that natural conversational flow that the others had. I’m also not 100% sure I like what they did with Delpy’s character.

    • Hey Ruth! Great to hear from you! Hope everything went well. Was certainly praying for you.

      Definitely watch Before Sunset first. It’s my favorite of the bunch. This one was slightly disappointing. Still had its moments though.

  7. Good observation about the topic of sex in their conversations. But I think that may be more a function of being a married couple w/ kids that finally have alone time. Also, great observation about not having a sense of place like the previous two films.

    • Appreciate the words! I thought about that but the sex talk is so prevalent that for me it went beyond that. Even scenes such as the women preparing the meal in the kitchen or the scene inside the old church have some come of crass sex joke. For me it took the natural flow out of their conversations. I can perfectly see where it would pop up here and there but constantly? Then again I may be the only person that had an issue with this.

  8. I gave it a perfect score and didn’t have the same issues you had with it. I think the movie is a good representation of that stage in someone’s life. As they have been together for 9 years it means that their conversations have changed, the romance might not be as strong and they really need to work at it to keep it going.

    Just wondering, but if someone would ask you about your favorite trilogies would you name this one?

    • I’m with you on the struggles of a long relationship. I think it does a good job with that. My main issues get back to the ending and the barrage of sexual dialogue. As I mentioned elsewhere, this was the first of these three movies that I felt was a bit scripted. Most of these films feel completely natural. As if you’re watching an ongoing real conversation. But for me the sexual dialogue stood out like a sore thumb. Every conversation at some type of sexual joke, etc. When they are in the church, when they’re at the dinner table, in the car, in the kitchen making dinner, and on and on. It didn’t matter what the situation or who was present. It really took away from the natural flow of the conversations.

      As for favorite trilogies. I’m just not sure. I love this series and I love these characters. And even with my feelings of disappointment, I still think this is a good third film.

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