Movie Review: Before Midnight- A Logical and Equally Emotional Continuation of the Romantic Saga that is Uncomfortably Truthful and Painfully Heartfelt

Before-Midnight-Image-1Despite what idealized viewers might think when it comes to their beloved romance films there are numerous events and circumstances that can occur outside the frame that could strengthen, fracture, or challenge that particular relationship beyond the assumed happily ever after conclusion. This idea behind continued uncertainty is essentially called life and though the realist perspective might damage some optimist hopes there is a genuine beauty to the wonderful truth that is a relationship that cultivates or fissures in the face life’s challenges. Eclectic filmmaker Richard Linklater, known for such diverse films such as his debut indie feature Slacker and his wide appeal comedy School of Rock, understood the idea of life beyond the ending credits once he reintroduced his two romantic leads Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) with a chance encounter in Before Sunset after their initial meeting nine years earlier in Before Sunrise. Before Midnight, the latest chapter of this ingenious film series, offers the creative staples that the romantic saga is known for with Linklater’s consistently delicate observational style, Hawke and Delpy’s engaged performances, philosophical witty banter relating to relationships, life, and more but this time unfolding the details of a relationship that has marinated beyond its initial romantic beginnings and changed into something far more palpable, strained, and relatable. The collaborative writing between Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy demonstrates their immense understanding of their created characters and deliver their most uncomfortably emotional and richly life-affirming vignette in this particular reflective road stop in the lives of Jesse and Celine. When poet John Keats wrote the famous last line “truth is beauty, beauty truth” in his poem “An Ode to a Grecian Urn” he realized that even the most unpleasant truths had intense beauty in its mere recognized existence and the Before saga is one of the purest cinematic exercises in revealing that kind of beautiful truth. Before Midnight takes the initially romantic setups in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset and expands them into their most logical and equally emotional prolongation where it expands the narrative strength, character vivacity, and philosophical importance of the series into a fully realized and painfully heartfelt whole that speaks uncomfortable truths in an engagingly entertaining way.

Time in between the individual films in the Before series is an actuality and every event in each of their lives, whether it’s a change of career or the saying goodbye to a loved one, determines all of the dramatic subtext, character perceptions, and dialogue launching points that are genuinely experienced in the vignette. In Before Midnight we are now nine years after the events of Before Sunset with Jesse and Celine no longer romantically connected acquaintances but have now begun a life together with all of the complexities of Jesse’s divorce, Celine’s refusal to move to America, and their competing senses of what it means to be a fulfilling and competent parent to their own children. Throughout this romantic saga, from the fateful beginning train encounter to the family vacation to Greece, nothing is ever wasted and every uttered word, utilized gesture, or forlorn glance has drastic importance and lands with direct emotional connection both in relating the situation at hand and creating bridges to understanding the previous unwatched nine years. All three screenwriters including Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy understand these two characters inside out and through the writing have tactfully constructed a script that weaves from humorous banter to philosophical curiosities to the uncomfortable dramatic reveals of contained resentments, possible regrets, and unexpressed doubts that all relationships have. The dialogue exchanges never have a feeling of forcefulness as the dedicated rehearsal of these finely written and naturally felt scenes makes it all seem professionally improvised. What makes everything about the writing in Before Midnight work is that it doesn’t utilize any cheap tricks because the carefully chosen dialogue and momentary silences all stem from a deep understanding of what these characters experience, feel, and most importantly believe. Though some might be hesitant to experience such a deviation from the romantic inklings of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset it should be noted that Before Midnight takes that romantic foundation and gives it a sense of potential loss where the impact of the arguments and every stinging insult is experienced as if you were a child hearing your parents passionately argue to the point where damage to the relationship could be done. Because of this genuine sense that there is much at stake in all of their conversations, the optimistically good and the pessimistically bad, Before Midnight becomes the logical culmination of where idealistic romance inevitably leads to and that is the realism of relationship struggle.

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Richard Linklater has perfected his observational style to the point where his collaborative camerawork with cinematographer Christos Voudouris has a completely non-judgmental capturing of Jesse and Celine at their very best and also at their very worst. There’s a misconception that arguments always have a winning and losing side but when it comes to the expression of subjective perceptions, beliefs, and concerns in a relationship there are no winners and losers but just genuine expressions that can either be understood or drastically misunderstood. Linklater knows that audiences will be entering the theater with pre-determined judgments on the two characters and so he does a delicate job at naturally progressing the dialogue constructing careful dramatic setups in order to give an unbiased foundation where the time gaps are filled and the audience has equal love and understanding for both of the character’s individual concerns. The naturalistic cinematography in every chapter of the Before series beautifully captures the surrounding locations whether it was Vienna in Before Sunrise, Paris in Before Sunset, and now Greece in Before Midnight putting the timelessness of relationship beginnings and troubles in cities that seem just as timeless. While Linklater might be an experimenter in the realm of cinema, which is clear from his non-linear debut Slacker, his rotoscoping science-fiction adaptation in A Scanner Darkly, and his half documentary, half fiction comedy Bernie, the basis for all his films is character and his strongest, most matured work will be the Before series after the importance of this latest chapter capturing the turmoil and doubts of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. Without any potential risk in a developed romance there is just idealized bubbliness and it’s clear Linklater wanted to guide his romance saga in the natural direction that all relationships are destined to go and that is encountering struggle, stubbornness, and the give and take between desire and responsibility. Before Midnight rivals the uncomfortable truth exposure of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but with two characters that are infinitely more sympathetic and that authenticity is fully credited to Linklater’s careful observation as well as Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s riveting continued portrayals of Jesse and Celine.

Actors looking to study the full embodiment of character or how characters subtly transform either from interior changes or exterior events should watch the Before series from start to finish and then for good measure watch them in backwards order because there is a true mastery to the acting delivered by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Each of them have been with these characters for almost 20 years and also co-wrote the sharp, sophisticated dialogue so their perfected delivery through constant rehearsal allows all of the chosen idiosyncrasies and carefully planned reactions seem natural and never forceful. Even though nine years separate the particular days that are the focus in each of the individual chapters of the series the high-level and consistency of the performances make it seem as though no time has passed at all as we get fully engaged in their conversations. Before Midnight progresses the series with great subtle construction mostly attributed to Hawke and Delpy who are willing to build up their sincere interactions and inevitably bare all of their characters’ weaknesses and strengths. Carrying an entire film with just one other actor providing aid and interaction is a daunting task but since it’s their third time both Hawke and Delpy seem increasingly comfortable and handle each scene with dedication and grace. In Before Midnight, however, there are some scenes that include other actors including a delightfully charming exchange on relationships at a lunch amongst colleagues and friends as well as a heartwarming scene between Ethan Hawke and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick who plays his son, Hank. As the talent of these two actors have matured so has the Before series making this chapter (too early to say final chapter) the most relatable as we venture the torrid ups and downs of their increasingly fragile relationship in the face of reality’s circumstances entering the romantic equation.

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The Before series began as an exercise in cinematic minimalism that had the courage to allow pure dialogue and genuine exchanges between characters to be the leading creative catalyst for a story’s progression. As each chapter reveals more about the complexities that drive the choices, beliefs, and circumstances between the characters of Jesse and Celine the series gets more complicated and mature along with them. Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy have all surpassed the expectations of not only successfully continuing this beloved series into a new found direction but have also broadened the philosophical scope, relationship stakes, and realism of each of the three films with this chapter alone. Because of the previous two films there is an invested interest in the relationship but even without that foundation Before Midnight can serve as a solid, intelligent, and emotional introduction into a relationship that is at one point of its continuing journey. This might not be the sexiest or cleanest day focused vignette in the lives of Jesse and Celine but it is the most essential that reveals the beauty in showing the blemished state of a relationship continuously growing and struggling. Before Midnight is by far one of the more sophisticated and respectful reflective dramas in quite a long while and anyone who considers themselves an adult willing to face the uncomfortable realities of life whether it’s involving relationships, friendships, career uncertainty, or the challenges that we all face should make time to partake in this beautiful yet painful film.

Grade: A

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