In 1995, an American student, Jesse, spent the day with a complete stranger, Celine. The random encounter ended with a heartfelt admission of love and a promise to meet again in six months. In 2004, during a press tour for his new book, Jesse once again connects with Celine. The two spend another day lost in discussion — but now Jesse is now married, Celine is working as a singer/songwriter in Paris, and the two struggle to understand why they didn't pursue each other a decade before.
In 2013, everything has changed. Building upon the events of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, director Richard Linklater and his two stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, continue the exploration of their romantics in the Sundance 2013 debt Before Midnight. The film premiered late Sunday night for a Sundance crowd well-acquainted with Celine and Jesse's history. It brought the house down — albeit in new and exciting ways.
If you want to go into Before Midnight 100% fresh, now might be the time to avert your eyes. Know this: it's fantastic.
Having seen Jesse and Celine meet then rediscover one another in the first two films, Linklater spares the audience from suspending their disbelief by picking up with the wistful duo at a logical point. No third, happenstance meetings here — the did he/didn't he mystery of the second movie is quickly put to rest when we see Jesse put his teenage son on an airplane before climbing in a car with his wife, Celine. The couple, with two adorable French daughters of their own, is nearing the end of a summer retreat in Greece. The extended vacation has given Jesse time to work on a new book and and get away from it all, opening the door once again for the couple to reexamine their lives. Celine and Jesse may have tied the kno, but their human beings. They question true love.
Many films have tried to pull back the curtain on the 40-something lifestyle, most recently in Judd Apatow's This Is 40, but Before Midnight bests them all with unprecedented authenticity. Chalk it up to Hawke and Delpy having spent a significant amount of time in the roles (shaded variations of themselves), allowing the characters to evolve in both appearance and wisdom. The movie feels lived in from the start, Celine and Jesse relying on small talk to eventually crack their larger issues. Jesse is worried about living in Europe and missing out on his son's life. Celine can't help but wonder what other chances for her out in the world. Both see themselves aging at a rapid pace — are they still as invested in one another as they were during their picture perfect meeting two decades ago?
Like the previous movies, naturalism and a keen awareness of modern times are Before Midnight's best friends. Hawke and Delpy feel like a married couple. One scene between the two of them can jump from playfulness to bitter sarcasm to emotional breakdown within seconds — and then back again. Fueling their discussions are the other couples at their retreat. At a dinner scene, Celine and Jesse sit at a table with an elderly couple, a couple their own age, and two budding new romantics, hearing musings from each on how romance functions. The young pair's words shake Celine — in order to date long distance, they just hop on Skype every night and chat. A significant change from the days of 1994.
Watching Before Midnight is like witnessing lightning being captured in a bottle for a third consecutive time. The movie has so much to say, Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy flooding it with their unique perspectives that helped Sunrise and Sunset feel rich and alive. It's a movie of conversations that have a cadence that's unrecognizable when stacked up against modern movie dialogue. This isn't a no-script, goofy improvisation free-for-all. The talking has structure, but it's organic, free-flowing, and colorful. As Celine and Jesse stroll through the streets of rural Greece, they find a way to bring up everything — their kids habits, dating histories, pet deaths, and feelings of ultimate despair — and once again, it feels honest.
Striving for that truth with every word and gesture, Before Midnight preserves the integrity of the past while boldly breaking new ground as Celine and Jesse. Linklater's series continues to hold the title of "the ultimate love story," without much hullabaloo. The Before movies are both epic and perfectly casual. Universal and intimate. Deciding to revive the series with a third film was a major risk in the wake of two fantastic dramas. It's a risk I'd be willing to take again after Before Midnight.
[Photo Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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