Film Review: Before Midnight
Two young people who spent a magical night in Vienna in 1995’s Before Sunrise, miraculously reconnected nearly a decade later, in Paris, in 2004’s Before Sunset.
Published: June 12, 2013
Directed by Richard Linklater
Opens June 14 at the Charles Theatre
“We’re going to have one hell of a night,” Celine (Julie Delpy) says, sitting at an outdoor cafe overlooking the Mediterranean sea. Her partner—nay, soulmate—Jesse (Ethan Hawke) sits with her on this stunning evening. The moon hangs high in the summer evening sky, and Jesse and Celine trade glances during one of their last nights of a summer idyll on a Greek island where novelist Jesse was invited to a writer’s retreat. The whole family came, Jesse and Celine’s twin daughters and his son by his previous marriage, who flew back to Chicago earlier that day. Tonight, though, the girls are being watched by friends, who gave the pair this evening alone at a fancy hotel. Celine’s statement could be a romantic promise, but the skepticism in her voice makes it a kick to the teeth. Hell is what this couple has spent the previous half-hour barely getting through.
Before Midnight, the third installment in the absurdly romantic relationship between American writer Jesse and French environmental activist Celine, has received nearly universal praise for where it allows the series to go. These are the two young people who spent a magical night in Vienna in 1995’s Before Sunrise, miraculously reconnected nearly a decade later, in Paris, in 2004’s Before Sunset, and now find themselves finally a couple, living the dream.
Such dreams are youthful fantasies, which Midnight establishes from the very start. Celine is reluctantly considering a government position, wondering if she can be more effective working within the establishment. Jesse, after dropping his son off at the airport, feels the guilt of being an absentee father and wonders aloud if they should relocate to the United States. The fuse of a heated argument is lit and it smolders for half the movie before it explodes.
Youthful idealism, dewy-eyed romanticism, the unavoidable spark of sexual chemistry—Midnight runs these seductions aground on the shores of career anxiety, the inconvenient truths of parenting, and the grown-ass common sense that being a couple takes more effort than being really awesome with somebody else over two nights a decade apart.
That co-writers Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke push an indie romance into domestic vivisection with such gusto is what makes Midnight draw blood. Hawke impressively allows Jesse to be a manipulatively endearing, narcissistically self-deprecating, and passively cruel man-child, but it’s Delpy who delivers the movie’s crushing blows. She nimbly balances a working mother’s long-term vision, a professional woman’s ambitions, and a 40-something woman’s anxiety about her desirability into a force-of-nature performance. What’re they going to do? Perhaps a follow-up installment will reveal. But the fight Jesse and Celine have in that posh hotel is a tour de force, the sound of a generation that was in its 20s in the 1990s reaching middle age and realizing it’s going to have to grow up, whether it wants to or not. One hell of a night indeed.
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