Before Midnight (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

beforemidnight 75The characters’ perspectives have changed with age, and that’s where Before Midnight really shows its beauty.

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2004’s Before Sunset has, in the nine years since its release, come to be regarded as a modern masterpiece, and that makes it easy to forget that it didn’t look all that promising when it was in production. It was the sequel to 1995’s Before Sunrise, which film focused on the twentysomething American boy Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and twentysomething French girl Celine (Julie Delpy), who meet and fall in love on a train to Vienna. In the typical style of director Richard Linklater, Before Sunrise took place entirely over the course of one period of less than a day in the characters’ lives, and most of the film’s running time was taken up by just listening to these characters talk: about their lives, about philosophy, about what they want, etc. While being a pretty solid film, Before Sunrise didn’t seem to beg for a sequel, and until reviews of Before Sunset started coming in, everyone met the existence of the new film with a resounding “Who cares?” But Before Sunset was the rare film that was not only a brilliant, near-flawless piece of work itself (that one follows Jesse and Celine nine years down the line, walking around and talking in real time in Paris), but it was so good, it made Before Sunrise appear to be a much better film than it originally seemed to be.

The new installment in this franchise, Before Midnight, catches up with Celine and Jesse on vacation in Greece, and it doesn’t have the benefit of low expectations that Before Sunset did. Worse, if it’s anything short of a masterpiece, a lot of people are going to be really disappointed. Luckily for us, Before Midnight is close to as good as Before Sunset; I have to give the edge in terms of overall quality to Sunset, but Midnight is a worthy successor, which is very high praise indeed.

Unlike the beginning of Before Sunset, in which Jesse and Celine saw each other for the first time in nearly a decade, Before Midnight’s introduction clues you into the fact that they’ve spent all of their last nine years together. Jesse still has a son from his first wife, but in the interim he has also had cute twin girls with Celine, and has grown increasingly successful as an author. Aside from just where the characters are at this point in their respective lives, if you’ve seen one or both of the prior two films (as well you should have), you know what to expect of Before Midnight: It’s going to take place in a beautiful, romantic European country; it will all take place over the course of less than a day in the characters’ lives; and pretty much the whole movie will be the characters talking about their lives, philosophy, what they want, etc. Except, of course, their perspectives on these things have changed with age, and that’s where Before Midnight really shows its beauty.

One thing that bears mentioning here is that, while I’ve long been a fan of hers, Julie Delpy has lost a fair amount of credibility with me in the last six years with the release of 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, both of which she wrote and directed (she’s a co-writer on both Before Sunset and Before Midnight, as well), both of which seem to be influenced by her experiences working on the Before films, and both of which pretty well stink. I’m happy to report she’s back on point here. She collaborates very well with Hawke and Linklater, and Celine easily gets the best lines in the film. Also, while it isn’t hard if you’re Delpy, it’s refreshing to see a woman her age (43) depicted as strong and sexy; if this were a more Hollywood film, the best she could hope for would to be cast as Kirsten Dunst’s wacky mother.

A generation just younger than me grew up with the Harry Potter novels. Assuming you’ve read those books, you know that, from book to book, as Harry and his crew age, the books themselves also age in terms of content, theme, and overall maturity level. That’s how the movies in the Before trilogy are, except that the generation growing up with them is just a few years older than me. (Why’d I have to be born smack in between the best target audience for these two things?!) I guess I shouldn’t complain, as it’s afforded me to opportunity to grow up with both, in my own way. | Pete Timmermann

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