A fan of the Ethan Hawke-Julie Delpy-Richard Linklater franchise, I was quick to see Before Midnight. The first two installments are charming and left me needing to know what happened with Céline and Jesse. Could segment three sustain itself and meet expectations?
Before Midnight picks up eight years after Céline (Delpy) serenades Jessie in her excellent Paris flat in Before Sunset. Since then, they got together, lived in NYC, sired twin girls and now live in the City of Lights. As the movie opens, Jesse (Hawke) is dropping off his tween son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), at the airport. He’s spent the summer with Jesse, Céline and the twins in Europe.
Immediately afterwards, we are in the car on their road trip discussing their concerns. Jesse is troubled by living a continent away, especially with Hank heading into his teens. Céline is offered a dream job but is unsure. Their connection is still visible. The way they bicker is genuine. As they head to a seaside home where friends converge and dine, chatter swirls around love and relationships. This scene feels contrived. I’m bored watching Céline pretend to be an adoring fan of Jesse’s and the way the conversation drifts because truth is, I prefer to be with Céline and Jesse and see how they are when alone with one another.
I get my wish when the two receive an unexpected night alone. A big fat fight follows. It builds in their hotel room. As they recriminate, I experience that familiar crappy feeling. The one you get during a quarrel. Céline erupts. Jesse is gentle with his volleys but neither backs down. We get backstory tidbits that reveal fissures and relationship issues: feeling put upon, ignored and burdened with the hard work of raising kids. Céline goes the mean route. Is she reacting to the guilt of Jesse having left his wife, that he lives in Paris with Céline and that he is missing this son’s life in Chicago? Is she afraid he might leave? She doesn’t ask about his feelings on it. Instead, she’s adamant that she’s not moving to Chicago.
This one, like the others, is talky but some of discussions run laborious and despite the fighting being realistic, I want to better understand Céline’s motivations. I tired of the yelling. Are they setting up for the next installment—a separation, a divorce? Will they move to Chicago? Will Céline complain incessantly? All said, I’m in the minority; ALL the reviews I read gave nothing but praise for Before Midnight. I’ve thought about it a lot and still wonder what’s next. That fact alone might be the best recommendation.
Co-writer/Director: Richard Linklater
Run time: 109 minutes