Fans of Richard Linklater’s “Before” films have had a long wait to find out if Jessie and Celine would live happily ever after. In 1995’s “Before Sunrise,” the question was whether the two would reunite in Vienna six months later. In 2004’s “Before Sunset,” everyone wondered if Jessie was going to miss his flight back to America to be with Celine.
Nine years later, we have the answer.
Shifting the action from Paris to Greece, “Before Midnight” finds Jessie and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), now in their forties, vacationing with their twin daughters in the scenic country. They’re living ever after, but the happily portion is starting to crack. Some friends offer to watch their girls for the night, allowing the couple to have another one of their epic walk and talk experiences that make up the “Before” films.
Yes, Jessie stayed with Celine after the credits rolled on “Sunset,” leaving them to deal with the fallout from Jessie’s divorce and leaving his son behind. “Midnight” opens with him walking Hank around the Greece airport before his flight back to America. The anguish he feels about leaving his son behind with an angry mother full of animosity drives most of the conflict throughout the film.
“Before Sunrise” was about the whimsies of youth, how love can just whisk you away at a moment’s notice. It’s one of the best films about being in your early twenties, along with Cameron Crowe’s “Singles.” The sequel nails life in your early thirties, with discussions about aging, how people’s appearances have begun to change, and the realization that adulthood is really and truly upon you. “Midnight” examines life in your forties, with the regret that can fester inside people from discarding individuality for the responsibility of raising a family, coupled with the knowledge that you really aren’t getting any younger and its now or never to do something about it. The couple also seem to be much more aware of their own mortality.
The amazing chemisty that helped make the first two “Before” films is still there in “Midnight,” with Hawke and Delpy playing off of each other as if they were a real-life couple. It’s what has made Jessie and Celine one of the best couples in the history of cinema. I could listen to the two of them talk about anything for ninety minutes, whether it be making bread, unicorns or filing tax returns. Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, all of whom co-wrote the screenplay, know these characters so well they could make any conversation enthralling.
“Before Midnight” is probably best viewed if you’ve seen the previous two films, but it caps off one of the unlikeliest, and most romantic, trilogies there are. With special effects ruling the theaters, “Before Midnight” is a welcome reminder that adult fare still exists in all its complexity and feeling. It’s one of the best films of 2013.