Before Midnight (2013) is the latest installment of the Before series that releases a new movie every 9 years (Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) are the two preceding films). We’re able to catch up once again with Jesse and Celine after another 9 year gap (which allows us to see the aging of the stars before our eyes, as we’re able to join them throughout the various phases of their lives and relationship with each other). Richard Linklater has produced this series of films as a fictional counterpart to Michael Apted’s legendary 7-Up series that began in 1964 with a group of 7-year children. The documentary series has continued to look in at most of the children’s lives every 7 years since then. The latest installment was 56 Up (2012). The next one will be 63 Up (2019). I’m not sure that the Before series will continue past 4 or 5 films in total, especially given the 9 year gap in between (and the considerable age that the actors already are).
We come to find out that Before Sunset concluded as we suspected it did – Jesse and Celine spent days in bed together. This led to Jesse’s divorce (which probably should have happened with or without the affair). Unfortunately as is par for the course, Jesse’s wife got custody of the kid. Jesse and Celine are now married with twin girls of their own, and fighting to get partial or full custody of Jesse’s son. Familial drama is rehashed for the most part (at least they aren’t self-absorbed in this film – they actually care about their fictitious children). As is often the case, their relationship is strained by the effects of Jesse’s previous marriage and child.
While the film is realistic and true to form on the modern blended family, it’s also not something that offers any new social commentary on the blending of two families that hasn’t already been done before. The divorce and custody drama only serve as a backdrop for anguish and marital strife set in the setting of a lengthy summer vacation that Jesse and Celine are able to take in Greece as the guests of a world-famous author (Jesse is now a professor of English at the American college in Paris). Midway through the film, we discover that Jesse authored another best-selling novel about his relationship with Celine. This time, it’s a completely tawdry and accurate description of their several days in bed together after they reconnected. Somehow I think Jesse is more akin to Janet Evanovich than Ernest Hemingway, and yet he’s managed to become a professor.
The gloriously lush landscape of Greece and well-appointed (or at least, well-located) house is on full display in Before Midnight. We’re treated to a thrilling dinner conversation the likes of which most of us only dream of, and as always I have to plug ‘Ephemeral’ whenever possible:
I guess that’s going to become a running feature on Ephemeral Pursuits – the posting of anything that mentions the word “Ephemeral” or “ephemera” in some form. If “ephemeral” is mentioned in the conversation, you know it was intellectual and high-brow. That being said, I absolutely loved the conversation as it freewheeled between Before events and real-world issues. It’s not as good as the original was regarding soap-box philosophizing about love, relationships, and the nature of life.
Of course, the movie wouldn’t be complete without some joking going on between Celine and Jesse. Those little delightful barbs and jabs between the two is part of what makes their chemistry together so wonderful. Unfortunately, those two scenes are pretty much the high points of the entire film. The rest of the film disintegrates into a true-to-life couples’ spat that threatens to break up Celine and Jesse. They make up at the end of the movie (somewhat), but the viewer is left with the knowledge that this cross-continental romance is tenuous at best. And we’re left to wait 9 more years (2022) to see a continuation of this story. That’s assuming everybody involved (the viewer included) stays alive and continues with this project.
If you’ve made it through the first two movies, watch this. Otherwise – I think this is the weakest link of the three films so far. The stunning scenery is the selling point of the film for me and while the dialogue is top-notch, it also feels a bit forced at times. I definitely didn’t like the exaggerated hand gestures Celine kept making towards the end of the film, while fighting with Jesse. It just felt contrived and over the top (mind you, my primary language is American Sign Language, so hand gestures mean more to me than they do to an ordinary viewer). I can’t recommend this film to a viewer that hasn’t seen any of the previous films.
MPAA Rating: R