Editor’s Note: This review originally ran as a part of our insanely extensive Sundance 2013 coverage. Before Midnight is in theaters as of May 24th.
It’s no easy feat to review one of Richard Linklater’s Before films – including Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Sundance premiere Before Midnight — because to attempt to chronicle and summarize films that primarily feature two characters walking and talking would likely prove boring and definitely end up reducing the experience of watching one of the Ethan Hawke- and Julie Delpy-starring films.
Here it is straight – do you love Before Sunrise and Before Sunset? You will love Before Midnight. Do you just like the previous two films? You’ll probably still love Before Midnight. Do you hate the film’s predecessors? Well, perhaps you’re best advised to stay away from this one. Have you never even seen one of the Before films? Well, you’ll probably do pretty okay with Before Midnight, thanks to its impressively well-crafted flow, its increasingly more relatable characters, and its less-starry-eyed but much more satisfying approach to what it means to actually love someone.
Nine years have passed since we last left Celine (Delpy) and Jesse (Hawke) in Paris on the tail end of their nearly-a-decade-in-the-making reunion, and Linklater’s film only strings us along for a matter of minutes before answering – quite conclusively – what happened immediately after we left the pair in the past and what is happening between them in the present. In the least spoiler-ish terms possible, at some point Before Midnight puts Celine and Jesse back doing what they do best – walking and talking, this time in Southern Greece.
Celine and Jesse have both grown into adulthood in the intervening years – real adulthood, one filled with professional pressures (Jesse is still writing novels, though he is searching for more experimental plots to explore, and Celine is wrestling with a possible job change) and responsibilities for others (Jesse’s now-high-school-aged son makes an appearance, and he’s no longer Jesse’s only child, while Celine now has a set of twins). As such, their conversations, while still focused on their personal relationship, feel richer, wider, and far more relatable than they were in the previous films. While we might be used to hearing what Jesse and Celine talk about when they talk about their love, we’re now treated to a series of conversations that can simply be about love in general. It needs to be experienced to be appreciated.
Before Midnight is satisfying for fans of Celine and Jesse’s relationship, but it’s also satisfying for anyone searching for some real talk about the nature of romance, love, and fidelity. This is an adult movie, made by adults for adults, and it’s one of the most fulfilling modern love stories to hit theater screens in quite some time.
It’s funny and brutal and wrenching and honest and true, and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch.
The Upside: A satisfying conclusion to Linklater’s beloved trilogy, one that has grown significantly over time while still remaining true to its roots; a real pleasure for fans of the franchise; relatable enough to appeal to new fans; Julie Delpy is luminous.
The Downside: Its supporting character-heavy first act could be trimmed down significantly.
On the Side: Before Sunrise was the Opening Night Film for the Sundance Film Festival way back in 1995.