Jessie and Celine are back to complete the lowest grossing trilogy of all time. Before Midnight continues the evolution of the couple from a brief fling into a treatise on what true love really is. Set in the Grecian Peleponnese, Before Midnight showcases what truly goes into keeping a relationship working and how you evolve as age and responsibility slowly consume your time.
The last time we encountered Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), Jesse was contemplating missing his plane to stay with Celine. Flash forward 10 years, Jesse missed his plane and divorced his wife. He just finishes spending the summer with his 14 year old son from his ex, lamenting he isn't spending more time with the young man. After the kid leaves, Jesse, Celine, and their twin children head to Greece to talk about literature, life, and responsibility.
Before Midnight adds some interaction for Jesse and Celine with other people; in this case, couples in their 20s, 50s, and 70s. The discussion turns into one of the best defenses of love I have ever seen. By using multiple viewpoints to discuss couples' feelings toward each other, we get a merging of old and new. For example, the younger couples approach their feelings toward each other practically: seeing them as fleeting and living in the moment. These ideas have rubbed off on the 50s couple, who acknowledge having fleeting feelings sometimes as well. The older members chimed in about how the time spent together evolves from youthful passion to joy of the little moments in the day to day life that burn deep into the memory, which Jesse and Celine are struggling to understand under the weight of their upcoming big decisions. I personally fall closer to the twenty something point of view, but I have never heard a defense of love so passionate as the older couple it made me really believe in its power.
Before Midnight spends its latter half following Jesse and Celine around Greece to a hotel room, where one of the best on screen fights takes place in an amazing 30 minute scene in a hotel room. What makes Before Midnight's fight special is the combination of realism and humor. The buildup is very subtle, with the early scenes showing some anger bubbling below Jesse and Celine's surface. Once they get to the hotel room, the gloves come off, starting very subtly as they are about to make love. As the fight goes on, the little traits that make the two of them love each other are used against the other person until the real true feelings come out: Jesse is worried he is not in his son's life enough, Celine doesn't want to move to the US to be close to him, Jesse is apprehensive about Celine's new job opportunity, etc. These come out with angry comments like "You are the mayor of crazy town" and "I don't love you anymore." Each line hurts but because we love the characters we can laugh at what is going on. The realism is best shown in one particular moment: when the fight seems to die down, and one character says the wrong thing, and the fight reescalates. Most blowups on TV/Movies are one big explosion and a resolution, but life is more complicated than that. Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy clearly have lived this and make it look so honest on screen.
The decade offscreen has given Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy time to build life experiences to prepare for Before Midnight. Like the previous films, it is hard to tell where actor ends and person begins, but Hawke and Delpy have aged with their characters and fall back in as if no time has passed at all. Their chemistry is still there, although it has evolved with time (Hawke looks older, but Delpy looks great). Their chit-chat feels honest, combining a little weariness and anger and more practical speak than in the previous films. They again are forced to take part in long takes varying from normal speak to rage, which they strike just right.
Before Midnight ends on a wonderful note: not quite happy, not quite sad, much like what life is like. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke deserve lots of credit for writing a movie version of what true love looks like. Sure, Hollywood wants us to believe it is about grand gestures. Before Midnight knows that love lies in the ever after part of happily ever after, and that is ultimately more honest and satisfying.