The 400-Word Review: Before Midnight
By Sean Collier
June 17, 2013
Richard Linklater’s 1995 romance Before Sunrise is about the most unlikely franchise-launcher in cinematic history. I doubt even enchanted viewers of that film — and there were plenty who were mighty enchanted — envisioned it as the beginning of a trilogy.
Yet here we are, almost two decades later: In Before Midnight, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are wandering around again, still lost in conversation. In 2004’s Before Sunset, the couple — Jesse and Céline, one-time lovers reunited by a novelization of their affair penned by Jesse — found each other once again, slightly older and debatably wiser. In that second installment, they had not spoken since the events of the original film; this added a certain nervousness, infatuation and complex tension to their encounter.
The hallmark of these films is the long conversations Jesse and Céline wind as they wander; Sunrise and Sunset captured something of the tentative, enthusiastic way new couples interact. It was mostly delightful, if undeniably pretentious. (That sentence could describe these characters, as well.)
Unfortunately, their lives have taken a sudden turn since Before Sunset — they’re together. Jesse has left his wife and son in America to move to France with Céline; the two have a pair of young daughters. The uncertainty and philosophy of the previous films has been replaced, largely, with ho-hum broken-home regrets and mundane married-couple bickering.
So much for the romance.
After a few extended scenes, some mercifully including other characters, we get back to the meat of the series. Jesse and Céline slowly wander to a small hotel in an Italian village; their conversation gradually creeps towards the unhappiness the two share now that they have to be full-time lovers.
Some will see this as the necessary conclusion to the series, appropriate and true. Unfortunately, Before Midnight is also soporifically boring. Take that nervous energy out of the equation and you have people dealing with routine problems that have been dealt with on-screen dozens of times (by, sorry, better performers.) And their longest conversations are still written in the voices of a couple getting to know one another better. If they’re still talking like that after nine years, then the bigger problem is some sort of creeping amnesia.
The only way to look on Before Midnight favorably is to be blinded by the previous entries in the series. Unfortunately, this final chapter breaks the spell of its predecessors.
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark