I had never seen any of Richard Linklater’s “Before Trilogy” until “Before Midnight,” so I was unfamiliar with these characters and their shared experiences. Without knowing anything about the two preceding films, I can surmise that they probably focused on the dynamics of the relationship between Julie Delpy’s Celine and Ethan Hawke’s Jesse. That may or may not be true, but if that type of dynamic was present in both of those films, I can definitely say that they are better for it.
“Before Midnight,” while being the most emotionally vulnerable of Linklater’s films, even more so than “Boyhood,” still continues in his proud tradition of making movies where nothing happens at all. Really, there is no plot, there is no driving force or story arc, its just pure “lets put interesting people into a box and see what happens” cinematic sandbox funness. Lots of filmmakers would love to execute a similar idea, but only Linklater has the patience and fortitude to let these stories speak for themselves, isntead of trying to find a way to speak for them.
The movie starts with Jesse dropping off his now teenage son at the airport. They’re clearly distanced, the son having spent the majority of his life with his mom, with Jesse only serving as a vacation dad, someone whom he sees on an extremely limited basis. From there, the movie progresses to a car ride, then a dinner, then a stroll, then a hotel room, then it’s over. Jesse and Celine share their thoughts about the world and their qualms with each other, where every smile is matched by a frown, and every tender kiss is balanced by a storming out the door.
The thing that’s most invigorating, at least to me who’s never seen one of these films, is that Celine and Jesse honestly aren’t that interesting of characters, but their rich dialogue magnificently represents two people struggling to say exactly what they mean, but just what they think will hurt or benefit the other most. It’s fractured human communication, where simple meaning is lost between bilingual and maybe even trilingual lovers. It’s a spectacular exemplar of individuals trying to keep a relationship alive, or at least prove that their relationship is worth keeping alive, even if it works against their own self interest.
The dialogue is fresh and invigorating, and even though I didn’t appreciate their characters much, there is a genuine spark and chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. Plenty of actors can make romance or lovemaking feel authentic, but very few can bring the subtle nuances of arguing to life. I’ll have to visit the other Before films to see if my perspective of “Before Midnight” changes, but assuredly I will be revisiting this film again.