Time flies. One day, when you’re just a kid, you meet a handsome stranger on a train, and next thing you know, nine years later, you two reconnect, and ANOTHER nine years later, you’re with children and in your 40s and vacationing in Greece and everything is both exactly as it should be, and nothing is either.
Richard Linklater’s BEFORE MIDNIGHT allows us to visit Jesse and Celine for the third time and, like old friends, check in on just how they’re doing these days. Nothing more, nothing less. It squarely aims for the audience that loved BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET, and those people, it will satisfy. While thinking about this review, I tried to imagine watching this movie without seeing the first two, and while Linklater’s fluid style and the ebb-and-flow of the dialogue would be probably as satisfying to a new eye and ear, this movie, more than the previous iterations, relies heavily on our ongoing crush with the two main characters in order to even be able to put up with them now. Meeting someone when they’re tired, and a little cranky and forty is apparently different than meeting someone fresh faced and non jarred in their twenties. WHO KNEW?
The main appeal of the first two films (and I will say, I loved BEFORE SUNSET more than BEFORE SUNRISE) was that we felt as close to Jesse and Celine as they felt to each other. All the intimacy they ever had at that point, we’ve seen and heard and shared with them. All they knew about each other, we got to learn as they learned as well, and the potential separation at the end of each installment (conversation?) loomed over our heads as much as theirs and helped us feel just as invested in their (fleeting? forever? who knows?) connection.
Come BEFORE MIDNIGHT, they have had nine years of a life together we were not privy to (KIDS! JOBS! APARTMENTS!), nine years of a life that shaped their opinions and love and annoyance with each other, and even though, to us, they still seem like old friends we’re happy to be catching up with, we’ve grown a little apart over the years. And, if I was to look for a flaw in this movie, I’d say that would it. Just not feeling quite as intimately connected with their relationship as I have before. It is, amidst the potential heartbreak on the screen, a little side heartbreak for the viewer.
Still, there is plenty to enjoy. Delpy and Hawke, in what they are now aware are the roles of their lifetimes, share an easy conversational chemistry that has not diminished over the years. He has loosened up over the years, and she has wound herself a little tighter in response, but the way they are makes sense. Linklater is as lighthanded and inobtrusive with his camera as ever, the visual style as lovely and sun dappled as the vacation island they’re on. And, for the first time in the trilogy, we get to see Jesse and Celine in real conversations with people that are not themselves-and that, to some extent, helps us understand how they go about their lives when we’re not watching them just hanging out with each other for hours.
Once we get them back on their own, they acknowledge that it has been too long since they had quality talk time with each other, and on a walk to their hotel for the night, we get to get a glimpse of the back and forth banter we loved from these two so much in the past (Delpy and Hawke co-wrote all three movies with Linklater (the first one, uncredited), and they truly write the way they speak, a rare occurrence in movies these days, almost more refreshing in 2013 than it was in 1995). Still, if in the first movie they tried to impress each other with literary and philosophical references and in the second one their dialogue was a flirtatious game of catch up, the third outing is more melancholic and trying. “If you met me on a train to Vienna NOW, would you have stopped and talked to me”, asks Celine. And, as anyone who has ever walked into a conversation minefield that long-term relationships are can atest, the half a second hesitation Jesse exhibits before answering “Yes” opens the door to relationship questioning and more. And there is no turning back. How many moments like this have these two people had in the last nine years? Are they near their tipping point?
Everything about their exchanges still rings true, yes, but maybe not quite as lovely as before. Like a real, living, breathing relationship the trilogy has taken a turn for the more complicated and hurting. And while this is a commendable trait, not trying to sugar coat anything, it also, much like in a real, living, breathing relationship, it makes us long for those lost days and conversations of youth, at least a little. They feel it, and we feel it as well.
I know I am coming off as if I didn’t TRULY enjoy the movie, and I did (I PROMISE I DID!), it is sometimes just very hard not to judge humans you care about. Even fictional ones. That is what BEFORE MIDNIGHT is about, and that is also what this review (and life?) comes down to.