Review: Before Midnight

Don Malvasi

Both the funniest and darkest of the films in the Before trilogy, Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is a stunning portrait of a relationship enduring a serious rough patch. Starring the incredible leads Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, both who also co-wrote with Linklater, the film takes place another nine years down the road traveled by an American man and French woman, now on vacation in Greece, their twin daughters in tow.

Jesse (Hawke) is now an acclaimed novelist, who apparently borrowed from Celine (Delpy) for his lead female character in both books. Hank, his teenage son from a previous relationship is, at the movie’s outset, just leaving Greece to return to Chicago, where he lives with his mom. We learn she’s unsympathetic to her ex-husband’s new life and she and Hank will come up during the film as a source of resentment and unfulfilled dreams for Hawke. Celine, at the brink of starting a promising new job in Paris, faces the question of throwing it all away to uproot herself for a move to America, so Jesse who feels he has no shot at custody, can be close enough to see Hank on alternate weekends.

As in the previous two films, which perceptively depicted their meeting and subsequent reunification after nearly a decade of being apart, Before Midnight glides through long takes with even longer, unforced and discerning conversations between the couple. A scene with their Greek hosts, an extended family led by an elderly wise man of letters, breaks up the talks between the couple. Their arrival at a Greek hotel later in the film ratchets up the mostly light conversation from earlier. Unbelaboredly yet as risky as can be imagined, the film culminates in a combative orgy of acrimony. Never losing its humor, it goes from enthralling to hypnotic. A deepened sensibility provides a flawlessly executed window to Celine and Jesse proudly protecting their individual identities while sharply yet sophisticatedly arguing up a storm. Sex, used as a catharsis in the previous films, is interrupted here for a different sort of intimacy. Role playing and the “time-machine” device also used in the previous films, help bring the couple to a by-no-means final truce. The realization, paradoxically, sets in that “romantic” has actually taken on a new meaning.

Before Midnight will stand on its own in case you haven’t seen the first two go-rounds. Taken as a whole, though, the films are a major achievement in cinema–a ground-breaking collaboration between three artists of the highest magnitude. As astute as any film about relationships you will see, Before Midnight is a date movie for the bold. Unlike the majority of films these days, it breathtakingly treats the viewer like an adult.

5 Highly Entertaining, Daringly Incisive Stars (out of 5)

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