Celine and Jesse Poignantly Embrace Their 40s in 'Midnight'

Directed by: Richard Linklater; Runtime: 108 minutes
Grade: A

Honestly, I'm not sure if it's possible -- at least, for me -- to objectively review Before Midnight as a standalone movie. There are several reasons for this, primary being this intimate relationship built with the two souls that Ethan Hawke an Julie Delpy have brought to life in Jesse and Celine. From their chance encounter and leap of faith into the streets of Vienna in Before Sunrise to their (not so) happenstance reacquainting in Paris during Before Sunset, writer/director Richard Linklater has invited the audience to grow to know them, rather intimately, through soul-searching conversations about philosophy, ambition, and the nuance of relationships. While Before Midnight obviously conveys a brilliant extension of the characters we've grown so deeply fond of, it's also the culmination of what they pondered during their leisurely bond-building walks, about growing older and whether they'd relish the routine and predictability of another person with time. Just like the real world and just like their previous encounters, the answers aren't clear cut.

Much like Before Sunset, Midnight begins with a scene centered on Jesse (Ethan Hawke) that gets the audience up to speed -- somewhat vaguely, to build a little suspense -- on what's happened since last encountering the couple nearly a decade ago. Fanciful romantics might picture a scenario where he cleanly broke away from his unhappy life and lived happily ever after with Celine (Julie Delpy) following their rendezvous in Paris, but between previous relationships and the geography between people that live in different countries, that's simply not reasonable. Before Midnight concerns itself with what their "happily ever after" really looks like: divorce, child custody, professional motivation and sacrifice, and the longevity of a bond as strong as theirs. Set against the beauty of the Peloponnese in Southern Greece for a family vacation (they have kids!), Celine and Jesse find some time out of their hectic lives to once again relish a foreign country and (re)explore one another, only without the whimsy of it being a literal first encounter after time apart.

Linklater's fascination with creating the illusion of real-time intimacy continues with Before Midnight, but it's more relaxed and spread out as it captures the day spent with Celine and Jesse before they return to the "real world". Instead of a patchwork of smaller conversations like Sunrise or the intentional real-time feel of Sunset's rushed circumstances, a few very lengthy exchanges take place in blocks across the span of a day, leaving time unaccounted for aside from quick, stunningly picturesque glimpses at vacation activities -- playing soccer, swimming -- that fill in the gaps. More importantly, the pair spend a fair amount of time either apart or in the company of others, notably this beautifully-done dinner scene at the Grecian home of one of Jesse's colleagues. This is a film about more than their continuing romantic saga; it's also a glimpse at how they've changed and stayed the same as individuals over their years together, as well as how their individuality both keeps them together and pushes them apart.

Thus, Before Midnight is far less idealistically romantic than the previous encounters with Celine and Jesse, but that's to be expected with the passage of time and the conflicts simmering underneath the surface, just on the edge of boiling. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy once again provide their writing input to elevate the growth of their characters' dialogue, working wonders as they discuss employment opportunities, religion, the battle of the sexes, and, above all else, age. The marriage between these actors' natural attitudes and their characters' personalities offers something unlike other productions: Hawke and Delpy interact as older iterations of those young strangers who took a chance by spending a night together in Vienna, yet some of the actors' own evolution as regular people pours through Celine and Jesse's waltz through the south of Greece. As fatigued, discouraged adult versions of their prior selves, Hawke and Delpy are authentic and brave to the bone, casually amusing and melancholy.

The other area where Before Midnight explores new territory, something its audience will either relish or find frustrating to absorb (or, like myself, both), is the emotional breaking point approached by their conversations: a quarrel. Linklater candidly depicts the exacerbation of a conflict between these two long-together people that hits a fork in the road, starting with a seed planted at the film's beginning that blossoms into something thorny and difficult to approach, yet worth the effort for them to tackle for the beauty still present. Details revealed in Celine and Jesse's conversations smartly latch onto one another, forming an intuitive chain reaction that'll surprise those in lasting relationships with how attuned their concerns, passions, and frustrations are with the mechanics of modern romantic pragmatism. It also encourages those watching to engage in some clever meta-fictional observation: which one is in the right or wrong, if either one are, and whether they're acting out of logical thinking or emotional anxiety.

None of this would be successful without feeling compassion for these two forty-somethings, which makes it beautiful, in a way, to see Celine and Jesse's relationship adapt in flawed yet heartening ways to the realistic changes thrown at them. Considering this couple once debated whether they should have sex during their first encounter or if they'd appreciate the expectedness that repetition brings to a relationship, it's spectacular to see the full gradient of experience leading them to this point of awareness of one another, for better or worse, with rough answers to those questions. Richard Linklater has crafted yet another expression of the authentic bond between two people that weathers the trials of time and ideology, ending on bittersweet, charming notes that leave one seriously considering what their future holds. The absence of a clear-cut answer among a complex fusion of sentiments reveals the maturity of Before Midnight, while preserving one's curiosity to eventually find out. Here's hoping the answer might reveal itself in another nine or so years.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]


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