I’ve never seen Before Sunrise or Before Sunset. Those are the previous two films in what has become one of the more interesting film franchises around, one that continues with Before Midnight (out now on home video).
The movies follow two characters named Jesse and Celine. Each film lets us drop into their lives every so often. In this new movie they are middle aged parents dealing with the struggles of love and life. Director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (they all are credited with the screenplays) strive to touch the real and honest in life while also being entertaining and hopeful at the same time.
Before Midnight follows Jesse and Celine as they deal with struggles from Celine’s career, Jesse’s son and issues they didn’t even acknowledge before in their day-to-day lives. The movie begins with them happy enough, rolling through the motions of life on a vacation and ends with them in a hotel room watching as their supposedly happy life comes crashing down around them.
I wish I could fully endorse Before Midnight like other critics have done. I recognize the ambition of the movie, think Hawke and Delpy create very real characters and the story has some raw emotional moments that pull on your heart and stomach as you identify with the reality of what Linklater has presented onscreen.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Midnight works in the way that it needs to. It’s supposed to be a movie about two identifiable people with identifiable problems. My issue is that while these people struggle with real dilemmas, they come across as completely pretentious. Their discussions aren’t between two human beings, they are between masculinity and feminism.
I like watching smart people having smart discussions. People do it all the time. That is what Midnight is supposed to be. However, that’s exactly what this film feels like: a movie where smart people have smart discussions about life, love and the meaning of it all.
Jesse and Celine talk on such big terms in their arguments and discussions that at times they are not relatable. They become less characters and more talking heads for whatever is on the minds of Linklater, Hawke and Delpy. The movie really shines when they are discussing Jesse’s son, pointing fingers about infidelity or trying to test the love of one another at a cafe in the middle of the night.
When these moments happen, we feel like we are watching two people. Their small discussions about life lead us to big discussions and thoughts. Instead, the movie is full of more moments where the two yell at each other over feminism and discuss their relationship as if they were screenwriters trying to crack characters.
I’m not saying Jesse and Celine can’t discuss the meaning of it all and have deep discussions. I do all the time as do other people, but it seems to be all these two characters do even when their relationship is on the line. They feel like characters in a movie with movie lives.
Before Midnight has some great moments, and I admire what this franchise is trying to do. I hope everyone continues this series and lets us pop into the lives of Jesse and Celine some more. I just hope that later films remember this is supposed to be a movie about two people struggling with life, and not a movie about two characters being used as puppets.