Movie Review: Before Midnight
It’s the summer which means now is the time for movies to win crowds over for the top of the box office. Before Midnight doesn’t seem like the type of film that the summer movie crowd would rush out to see. Those lucky enough to give it a chance will be delighted.
NOTE: I know that Before Midnight is the third film in a series that includes Before Sunrise and Before Sunset which I will refer to as the ‘Jesse & Celine’ series. For the sake of the review, I will review Before Midnight without comparing them to the two previous films.
The film starts as Jesse is seeing his son Hank off back home to Chicago after spending the summer with him and Celine in the Greek Peninsula of Peloponnese. On the ride back to the house of their friend Patrick, the two have a discussion while their twin daughters are sleeping. Jesse has been doing well as a writer but wants to spend more time with Hank and give him a healthy childhood. Meanwhile Celine has been considering a job with the government back in Paris.
The visit at Patrick’s place becomes a moment of tranquility as the people staying with them, especially the other couples, talk about love and life. The couples even share their own experiences and feelings about each other and their relationships as Jesse and Celine are the centerpiece of it all. Patrick even gives his insight about Jesse future as a novelist in this time of electronic media.
Then Jesse and Celine head to the hotel the guests bought for them so they could spend some time alone. The walk seems light and sweet as the two talk about how they’ve met and how they’ve changed since then. However it’s in the suite that the friction starts. We learn that Hank’s mother back in Chicago is a suicidal alcoholic and citizenship laws can’t bring him to live with the two. We also learn that this government job is an opportunity of a lifetime for Celine. Then the fears about their future start pouring out from both of them which causes Celine to storm out of the hotel room leaving their relationship in question. The movie ends on the right notes in tune with the reality of the situation and allows the audience to decide the end of this story for themselves.
Even without the whole ‘Jesse & Celine’ factor, the film has the ability to stand well alone. The best quality of the film is that it’s one of the most thorough scripts I’ve seen when it comes to being about a relationship. The film focuses on the highlights and the struggles of the relationship between Jesse and Celine but it also features a scene at the house of Patrick and the other couples at the villa. The scene shows the couples young and old and their relationships where they talk about all the factors going into their love and their relations. There’s even talk from those no longer married. That scene adds to the story of Before Midnight. It’s a common trait of Richard Linklater to add conversations of others in situations involving the main plot of his films.
The other quality of the film is not just the film about being about relationships but of how two people can make or break it either by who they are, what they do or even what point in their lives they’re at. A lot of it has to do with the development of the characters. Jesse is the dreamer writer who tries to balance his imagination with his reality. He has become a successful writer as he’s on the verge of writing another novel. He appears to be in a happy relationship to Celine and a good father to his twin girls. However he wants to spend more time with his son in Chicago because he doesn’t trust his son’s mother. In the meantime, Celine is on the verge of a major career opportunity. This request from Jesse couldn’t come at a worse time. Celine however is the opposite of Jesse as she is very business oriented and does let her surrounding factors get to her. At the beginning of the film, you think this is a problem that will eventually sort itself out over time but it doesn’t. In fact all factors come into play such as the couple’s individual personalities, their vocations, Jesse’s fame as a writer, their roles as parents, their past selves, their genders, their current middle-ages and even their concepts of what they will be many years from now.
The thoroughness of the subject of relationships is one of the best qualities of the story. Another quality of the story is how the status of the relationship changes with every trip they make and every location they’re both at. In fact it’s all within a single day for changes to happen for the two to go from a family during a drive from the airport to one of the couples at Patrick’s house to a happy couple walking the streets of the town to a relationship in trouble at the hotel suite. That’s another strong addition to Before Midnight having all this happening in one day.
You have to give kudos to Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. It’s this trio that made it work in their collaborative scriptwriting, Richard’s directing and Ethan’s and Julie’s acting. You can bet with this series practically being Richard’s baby he would deliver a third movie that adds to the story of Jesse & Celine and he does it very well. Ethan and Julie have to know their roles of Jesse and Celine if they want to deliver performances that show them aging and growing believably in order for this movie to make the story of the two progress and even add to the series. Mind you it’s not just Richard, Ethan and Julie that deliver in this movie. Walter Lassally was a charming scene-stealer as Patrick and the dinner guests also added to the film very well. Another standout was the cinematography of Christos Voudouris that captured the feel of Greece in the movie.
Before Midnight may or may not be the last film in the Jesse & Celine series. Nevertheless it is an excellent and intelligent movie as it is and adds to the series. People who loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset will not be disappointed.Those from the summer movie crowd who don’t bother to see this film don’t know what they’re missing.