Movie Review: “Before Midnight”

Before Midnight

Before Midnight — a film review by Gary Chew

On seeing the opening sequences of Richard Linklater’s new film, “Before Midnight,” it was almost as if I had sat through the first scenes of “Stealing Beauty” with Liv Tyler.

Unlike Tyler’s circumstance, it wasn’t the Tuscan sun bearing down on two lovers seen in two earlier movies, “Before Sunrise” (1995) and “Before Sunset” (2004).

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Sony Pictures Classics’ “Before Midnight.”

Instead, it was the brilliant Mediterranean sun, as much aglow above the Greek island of Pharmakonisi: the effect is much the same, you see … either place being where anybody would die just to get themselves serious joie de vivre — first.

Continuing with as much joie de vivre as its plotless predecessors, “Before Midnight” is chapter 3 in the lives of Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) plus now, their lovely young twin girls, Ella and Nina, played by Jennifer and Charotte Prior.

Mid-morning has just begun with Jesse putting his 14-year-old son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) on a plane back to Chicago where the boy lives with his mother. What’s left of the movie are a few extended conversations — up until the end of that same day — among Jesse, Celine and some of the neat people they’ve been visiting on this even neater tiny island with the “funny” name.

“Before Midnight” is just like the earlier pair of movies: all talk, no plot; a movie totally character-driven, with characters so … well … “don’t-you-wish-you-had-a-life-like-theirs?” kind of people.

Before Midnight
Ariane Labed.

Jesse has now attained significant status as an author and teaches a couple of university courses. He and Celine live in, of all places, Paris. They’re about to conclude a six weeks stay with a veteran, even better-known author who’s been their host. The elder writer has the extra, very neat residence on the funny-named island. In a nanosecond, I’d move there.

The conversation is personal stuff, and it made me feel as if I might be eavesdropping on a couple whose business … which is most of the script … is none of mine.

I’m wondering if the man and woman depicted in “Before Midnight” — had they been more ordinary and living a life more mundane in say, Dubuque — would have caused (thanks to their ordinariness) theater patrons to walkout before the closing credits.

There is no outside conflict or threat. There are no dangerous risks being taken in this film. There are no out-of-the-blue horrible accidents involving loved ones or friends. So … what is it that makes this third in a series of movies about Jesse and Celine work like first two?

Dialogue. That’s part of it. The actors speaking the dialogue is yet more. The characters are honest, smart and so ordinarily human — like the good folks who live in Dubuque, up to their eyebrows in “ordinary.”

Most scenes are long. Most takes in “Before Midnight” are long. The actor’s go on and on, steeped in conversation … Hawke and Delpy transporting themselves into these two fictional persons who are allowing someone to make a documentary — but not really — about the pretty cool lives of their characters.

Before Midnight, Panos Koronis and Athina Rachel Tsangari
Panos Koronis and Athina Rachel Tsangari.

There’s little conflict in the first half, and the only dissension that arises is a heated debate later between Jesse and Celin in terms of their personal life and history, as well as how much of it squares with Jesse’s Stateside son and whether Jesse is doing his best as a non-custodial father.

Oh yes, there’s that other thing that normally surfaces. You know … will they or won’t they make love in the classy hotel room their good friends have rented for them as a favor since the pair must leave soon and trudge back to old, tacky Paris … for the rest of their lives.

Oh please Mr. Movie-maker, whisk us away to lives lived with more joy … and all of it below a startlingly bright Mediterranean sun or cozily ensconced with that significant other in the City of Lights.

I fear Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy will age on screen, right before our eyes, as Jesse and Celine locked in deep conversation for years yet to come.

Talk about a different kind of summertime franchise.

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