It’s essential to remember where we are coming from, and before diving straight into my review, I want to talk a bit about the two movies that came before. But you can head straight to the Before Midnight part if you like. Just scroll down a bit;)
Before Sunrise: A Romantic Haven for The Realistic Romantic
In 1995, Jesse and Celine met on a train, and connected like they haven’t connected with anyone. They were both cute, young (in their early 20s) and, as much as Jesse was more obviously so, romantic. They got along so well, in fact, Jesse didn’t want to get off at his temporary station in Vienna (he was flying back home the next day) so he persuaded Celine to get off with him and spend the day/night in Vienna (Before Sunrise). You can read a more thorough, spoiler-free review here.
Of course Celine and Jesse fell in love during their spontaneous and romantic day, and we fell in love with their story (as well as the city.) Now, I’ll spoil the ending, so you might want to avoid this post if you haven’t seen Before Sunrise.
Hell, you shouldn’t be here if you haven’t seen Before Sunset (sequel to Before Sunrise, which we’ll talk about shortly.) But please do come back after you’ve seen it.
OK, so Before Sunrise has a semi-happy, semi-vague ending. Celine and Jesse agree not to exchange numbers or addresses (which is pretty dumb and naive, considering how they felt about each other), but to meet in Vienna in six months. They say their goodbyes and go on their separate ways. But don’t get me wrong, Before Sunrise is one of my favorite films, and I pretty much love everything about it.
Before Sunset: A Little Darker, More Realistic and Just As Good Sequel
Come 2004, we get Before Sunset, the sequel. This is where we are disappointed in the beginning to find out that that planned meeting never happened. Jesse has gone on to publish a bestseller about their day in Vienna, and is on a book tour in Paris, which is where Celine lives. Celine drops by at his book signing, and from then on, the movie is about them catching up 9 years later.
As they mostly walk around Paris, we learn what they’ve been up to. Professionally, they’ve chased their ideals. Romantically, they’re a mess. Celine is in a kind of relationship with a guy she doesn’t care much about. Jesse is unhappily married with a young son; he would probably bolted if not for him.
Here, because they are in their mid-30s, things are, or at least seem to be, a bit bleak. And not just because of their current disappointing relationships, but because we learn they couldn’t meet at their designated time and that they still have feelings for each other.
The ending is still a bit vague, but basically, this time we kind of, sort of know they stayed together. OK, let me put this way: we guess they stayed together at that moment, but we aren’t sure if it lasted. Well, we weren’t sure for 9 years, until Before Midnight came out.
Before Midnight: Bleak, Hostile, Insensitive, Bitchy, Toxic – Is this the sequel about Celine and Jesse’s dumber, more aggressive and ultra insensitive clones?
I love Before Sunrise to bits, and in some ways, I love Before Sunset even more because it seems more realistic and sincere. It’s easy to relate to the disappointments and missed opportunities and what-ifs of being a grown-up.
The dialogue also sounds more natural than the first movie. Director/writer Richard Linklater, and co-writers/lead actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have done splendid jobs capturing a genuine, second part of a love story.
Before Midnight has a lovely trailer. It looks like you’ll look into the marriage of one of our favorite couples in movie history, and what years have done to their relationship (we know it has been years because they have kids and they’re on vacation together as a family).
And it starts well enough: Jesse is at the airport saying goodbye to his now teenage son Hank who has spent the summer in Greece with them. Then it takes a while we can get some quality time with just Celine and Jesse. Sure, it’s just them talking in the car while their twin girls sleep at the back of the car but it’s more talking at each other and making jokes about their kids instead of really sharing – not the type of Jesse and Celine exchanges we’ve gotten used to. Yes, we get it. They are married. Things are different. But are you really ready for just how much things have changed?
Then they’re back around the writer’s residence, Jesse talking to his friends, and Celine helping out in the kitchen (Celine in the kitchen???) and then it’s everyone at the house having dinner together. The stuff our duo would discuss among themselves is discussed together here, where Celine does her usual (in this movie!) putting-Jesse-down routine.
So 35 minutes in, and they still haven’t taken a walk around town just the two of them.
OK, about 47 minutes in or so, we’re finally with the two of them, only their conversation revolves mostly around their kids, and Celine’s insecurities. There are some delightful moments and smiles, but it’s very limited.
After a few minutes of Before-Sunrisey moments, we go to the hotel Celine was so reluctant to go to, and all hell breaks lose. This is where the movie puts me further off long-lasting relationships and having kids. This where I say forever goodbye to the Celine and Jesse I know, wishing I can forget this movie, so that I watch the first two movies again, without being haunted by this one.
Remember that beautiful scene by the fountain, little after dawn, in Before Sunrise where Celine was talking about how she’d grow to love someone more after she has gotten to know them entirely…Well, turns out, she just grows to resent them. Yay! Celine is another woman who has grown to resent her husband who shockingly didn’t change at all.
Now, I’m not saying I’m super awesome and Celine’s a bitch. We all have our own demons, problems and neuroses. But Celine here is making me miss Ally McBeal; and at least Ally was likeable and well-meaning most of the time. And she was funnier than she was irritating.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t head over heels with Jesse either. The last thing I want is a guy with a bitchy ex-wife and a teenage son, who plans a whole summer according to his needs, doesn’t include loyalty in his definition of being fully committed and who openly checks out younger, perkier women who happen to be dating his friend!
It’s just that next to Celine, he wins the lesser of two evils award.
I’m not saying I hated it. It had its moments. It had the trademark gorgeous scenery of a foreign country. But it didn’t have passion or romance. It didn’t have faith in the relationship and love story we grew up to love. There was no respect on Celine’s part, and don’t get me started about their lackluster ideas of being fully committed to each other…
So to sum it up all three movies’ reviews:
During Before Sunrise, you want to be Celine or Jesse.
During Before Sunset, you hope you don’t miss out on chances, and you wish you have the guts to follow your heart if you do happen to miss out on chances. You still don’t mind being Jesse or Celine.
During Before Midnight, you just want to go to Greece.
And I really didn’t want them to stay together, because that relationship became as harmful as toxic waste. I’m not some naive romantic that expects everything to be perfect. But I do expect an insult-free, loyal, passionate and respectful relationship. Otherwise, what the hell is the point? Speed had more romance than Before Midnight, for crying out loud!
This is a good, decent, honest movie. It’s just a highly disappointing sequel.
Recommended Movies: Strangers Falling in Love in One Day
Forget Me Not
Monsters– with a sci-fi angle
Also on Ethan Hawke
Brooklyn’s Finest starring Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle
Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto and Ethan Hawke
Actors and Literature: Ethan Hawke, Hugh Laurie and Viggo Mortensen
Reality Bites starring Ethan Hawke, Winona Ryder and Ben Stiller
Alias TV Show starring Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Bradley Cooper and Victor Garber