Movie Review: ‘Before Midnight’

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©Despina Spyrou/Before Midnight

When “Before Sunrise” was released in 1995, no one would have predicted that the Richard Linklater film would go beyond indie success and become one of the best trilogies in cinema. (Yes, we include Star Wars, the Dark Knight and the Lord of the Rings series in this.)

What began as a simple “meet-cute” of two tourists in Vienna in “Sunrise” evolved into a romantic reunion in 2004’s “Before Sunset”, and now another nine years later, “Before Midnight” depicts the now-married couple coping with the realities and compromises of a long-term relationship.

Yahoo! sent two readers to review “Before Midnight”: Thea, who has seen the two previous films and considers them as favourites; and Marta who has never seen a single minute of the series until now. Will fans of the films find a satisfactory conclusion to the saga? Will a newbie understand what’s going on? Read on to find out. (Warning: minor spoilers!)

Marta: The first third of this movie confused me. Based on the little I know from the teaser/synopsis, I thought Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) were in their 40s, meeting up in Greece for the one-night tryst that seemed to happen every decade!

Then seeing Celine and Jesse obviously an established couple with kids threw me for a loop. I was trying to figure out their history from their dialogue… Which never seemed to end. The viewers sitting next to us walked out. I think because all the talking bored them.

Thea: Did you get bored? I think I didn't warn you that this would all be talk!

Marta: Yes, but halfway through the movie I got into it and already lost track of time. It WAS good dialogue...

Thea: The first movie, it felt real to me because that's how my friends and I used to talk  in university… You know, mixture of conjecture and wisdom, naïveté — especially about male/female stuff. Watching the movies, it never felt like Celine and Jessie had the answers. You were grappling along with them while they figured stuff out.

Marta: It was a little scary to me. Like how they can go from the mundane, then a fight, to teasing each other… It scares me a little that being in a relationship myself, if my boyfriend and me will grow to talk like that.

Thea: Which, I guess is why, witty and funny as the dialogue was, sometimes they'd be going around in circles because that's how real people talk. And it shouldn't scare you. It shows that people are not one-dimensional.

Marta: Yeah the witty dialogue was funny, even at points of their fighting.

Thea: It was smart of the writers to take them out of their regular lives in Paris and into a vacation in Greece. It forced them to look at each other in a new way. Which I guess led to the whole fight [that takes up most of the movie].

So, what do you think: do Jesse and Celine uproot from Europe end up in Chicago [to be with Jesse’s son from his first wife]?

Marta: I suppose, in real life, it would be Celine's turn to uproot her self and move.

Thea: Celine is right in a way though. In most relationships, it's almost always the woman who will end up sacrificing. Which was I guess why she was so neurotic about it. If the situation were reversed, I don't think they would even be talking about moving.

Marta: Jesse’s career as a writer does make it so much easier for him to be the one to move. He can write from anywhere in the world. And Celine’s career track requires permanence.

Thea: Jesse’s son Henry is collateral damage for the romantic choices made by Jesse and Celine. I guess that's why both of them were upset because she also feels guilty. Not just because she didn't want to move, but for causing the split in the first place.

Marta: Ugh, “Before Midnight” is a “thinking” movie! (Laughs)

Thea: Yes, which is why I love this trilogy! It's not black/white. It's as "real" as relationship issues in movies can get. Of course, there are fantasy elements. I mean, the whole premise of meeting the love of your life on the train… Does that even happen "in real life"? This means you should catch up and watch the first two. Just to complete the experience.

Marta: I agree! Since you saw them in the first two movies, do you think they aged well? I think they did, especially Julie Delpy, who played Celine.

Thea: I was more shocked at how Ethan Hawke aged from the first to the second movie actually! He was gaunt and looked so old. I think he was coming from that whole divorce with Uma Thurman. But for “Midnight”, he filled up a bit and looked healthier. Even if he's still scruffy looking.

Marta: He looks wasted, like an ex-junkie.

Thea: I think they made Julie Delpy a bit plainer here. Like she has big hips and I see pictures of her on the red carpet, she doesn't have hips like that. (Laughs)

Marta: She looks like a real woman.

Thea: I like the whole bedroom scene when they were making out and preparing to have sex. It seems like that’s how ordinary people would do it. Like, she stood up and took her panties off as if it wasn’t choreographed, like how other movies do sex scenes.

Marta: Yeah, no choreography.

Thea: And the whole navel-gazing thing? Very Gen-X!

Marta: Navel-gazing? I must have missed that! Was that in this movie?

Thea: Hahaha. No, I meant "navel-gazing" as an expression!

Marta: Oh!

Thea: The whole trilogy is like that. Gen-Xers like talking about themselves, examining their feelings, motives, discuss, discuss, discuss. Yadda yadda yadda.

Marta: I think the un-initiated will struggle with this movie, like those two who walked out at the start!

Thea: Let's see how it goes. But I think it will do well. There are enough romantics in this world to sustain it!

"Before Midnight" (Rating: M18) opens in cinemas on Thursday, July 25th.

Photo courtesy of Shaw Movies. © Despina Spyrou