Before Midnight (5 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise)
Written by Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy (Before Sunset)
Starring: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
In 1995 Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) meet on a train while traveling in Europe. The two of them end up spending a romantic night in Vienna. As the night comes to an end the two make a plan to meet up some time later, but there is an obvious feeling that the two will never see one another again. After nine years has passed (2004) Jesse has written a book about his experience with Celine. While in Paris at a book signing Celine seeks out Jesse, the two walk around the city, and talk about what might have been. At the end of the film Celine seductively teases Jesse "you are going to miss your flight."
Eight years later (2013) Jesse and Celine are together (not married), they live in Paris together and have two daughters. At the beginning of the film Jesse is saying goodbye to his son Hank, whom he had with his first wife. Jesse and Celine were spending 6 weeks with their family in Greece as he stayed at an older author's home.
These three films take these two on a journey through their two decade long relationship from young lovers to a basically married couple with young children in their early forties. Within this film there is a set up unlike the other films in which Celine and Jesse have interactions with more people like their children, and other couples who are at different points in their relationships. While at the home of the author Jesse and Celine get to see love lost, with the two older people who have lost their spouses, a couple at the same point in their relationship with children, and a young couple born out of the digital age. Each of these films in this series is a marvel, and that is namely because of their scripts.
In past films Jesse and Celine are the sole focus of the films, and the world you watch, while in this film you get to see different relationships, and the way they view Jesse and Celine, and how Jesse and Celine view them. One of the most fascinating aspects is the younger couple who are probably the same age as Jesse and Celine when they met in 95. The two young lovers met in England, but did not live near one another, if this were 95 they may have ended up like Jesse and Celine on a different journey, but thanks to the magic of Skype they talk about how they would sleep next to their computer screens as though they were sleeping with one another and fall asleep. They are also part of a different generation in which love is seen as practical, and even they view there relationship as having an end.
The other interesting story comes from an older woman at the table who is friend of Jesse and Celine's host. The woman tells one of the most heartbreaking stories about how even though she knew love never to be perfect she misses the heft of her husbands arm around her in bed; she then goes on to talk about how as she has continued to age after his passing she has to try harder to remember him and she almost feels as though she is losing him all over again. I am actually starting to tear up as I write my recollection of this story, because it was beyond beautiful.
The couple who is the same age, and has children just like Jesse and Celine arranges a getaway on their last night in a hotel so they can have time to themselves to spark some romance. The fact that this couple set this up, and paid for this hotel shows the parallel of a similar feeling that Jesse and Celine are no longer the young bucks, nor are they old and nostalgic, they have to work hard to keep things fresh and passionate. As Jesse and Celine begin the walk to their hotel, one of their classic back and forth conversations begins, but their age shows the romance is gone, and the tone of this discussion is much less about romance, or what if, and more about do we still fit together. Jesse is debating a move to Chicago, Celine is feeling imposed upon and wants to follow her dreams, and also questions her abilities as a mother. The script creates a raw, intense, and sometimes funny look into this different point in Jesse and Celine's life.
While the script is impeccable, Linklater's direction is proof that he is one of the most underrated American directors. Linklater creates the most intimate scenes, pushing you into this couples world so well; he knows how to create the moments blending humor and darkness. Linklater envelopes the emotion and plants you firm into the world of these two, and while it should feel obtrusive you get sucked into their lives, namely because you feel like you know these people from the prior films, and maybe even in real life.
Many people know the slacker Jesse, that typical American adult who no matter what acts like a teenage boy, but yet has this romantic at the core. Hawke is fantastic in this film; he has grown into Jesse well. What I like about Hawke's portrayal of Jesse is that he never changes, because as jesse he knows he has to cling to what he knows in order to remain comfortable. Hawke knows this and tackles his wit and romantic with such ease. Delpy knocks it out of the park, but in a different way. Celine is no longer the cool French girl, but now the insecure mother who feels as though she is losing her ideals she once had. Delpy is fantastic and incredibly vulnerable, and gives birth to the evolution of Celine. Hawke along with Delpy have co-written this films once again, proving they know these characters maybe even better than they know themselves, and you feel as though these characters are ingrained within their being, they are both that good.
Before Midnight is a revelation, where young sweethearts turn into George and Martha. Jesse and Celine are potentially at a better place than that couple, but the film leaves you feeling the heft of the emotional struggle couples face as their relationship ages and they are at the middle. How do you cope with children sex, romance, passion, self preservation idealism? Jesse and Celine battle all of this in Midnight. This is one of the most honest films, and should be praised for turning the evolution of romance into a trilogy, this is one trilogy I can honestly get behind.