Opens Fri., June 14 at Ark Lodge, Egyptian, Sundance Cinemas, and Kirkland Parkplace. Rated R. 108 minutes.
Talk, talk, talk. Your tolerance or enthusiasm for the third chapter of Celine and Jesse’s intermittent romance will depend on your feelings about Richard Linklater’s last two talkathons featuring the same duo: 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset. That’s really all the guidance you need: If you cherish the first two movies, as I do, the third installment feels necessary—a midlife tonic for all those foolish old romantic yearnings, a trilogy driven by fallible, relatable characters rather than franchise economics.
The movie’s been out for weeks in New York, and Before-ophiles already know that Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) are now a couple and the parents of adorable twin girls. On vacation in Greece, the Paris-based family has just said good-bye to Jesse’s teen son from the marriage he abandoned. Hawke, an imperfect parent himself, is uncharacteristically quiet and stricken as the visiting boy flies home to the U.S. Could he and Celine follow, move back to the States so that Jesse might undo some of the damage he’s caused? He’s a novelist, prone to fanciful talk of loops in time, but she’s got a career back in Paris, and she naturally takes his suggestion as an affront. From the first 10-minute take in the car ride back from the airport, kids snoozing in the rear seats, Before Midnight becomes their on-again/off-again argument about who has to sacrifice what for a relationship, what sexual spark keeps it burning, and how shared romantic history becomes both a burden and a bond.
Linklater pointedly plants his duo in a long, leisurely dinner scene with other couples of varying ages; there we see budding romance and hear from an old widower. There’s constant talk of time and how love evolves, how to balance the ideal mate with the practical companion. Celine disparages herself as “a fat-assed, middle-aged mom” and frets that Jesse doesn’t see her with the same old lust. Jesse prefers the abstract to the earthy; yet he seems aware how, without the kids and Celine, he’d be lost in the ether. She puts a stop to Jesse’s platitudes during the film’s long final hotel-room confrontation, telling him “Let’s stop talking so we can fuck.” But the truth is that you need both to make a relationship work, and the proper balance keeps changing with the years.