THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
If you're reading this review, you probably know all about Richard Linklater's Before series. In case you don't, though, here's a quick primer. Before Sunrise, released in 1995, details the day-long romance between a young American named Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and a young French woman named Celine (Julie Delpy) who meet on a train and subsequently spend the afternoon having deep conversations as they walk through Vienna. Before Sunset, released in 2004, finds them reunited nine years later. Jesse has written a popular book inspired by their brief romance, and Celine shows up at one of his readings to say hello. Their feelings are reignited, but this time, they have no intention of passing like ships in the night, despite other entanglements.
We meet Jesse and Celine again in Before Midnight. Another nine years have passed. They are still together and have two daughters. The family is on an extended vacation in Greece. As with the previous two films, the characters mostly talk as they make their way through the gorgeous country. The content of their conversations is different now. They are no longer impulsive young lovers. Adulthood has changed them. Celine wants to take a dream job. Jesse is thinking he might want the family to move back to the United States. These two goals are not compatible. A night in a fancy hotel room forces them to open up to one another in a whole new way.
Before Midnight is about the nature of long-term relationships, and the way love deepens and grows but also finds itself subject to the complications of maturity. Jesse and Celine realize that their union has cracks in it that must be repaired. What began as a thrilling, carefree romance has evolved into something that requires actual work. This is an incredibly wise theme for a cinematic romance to tackle. Love in your early twenties isn't the same as love in your forties. Being with someone long-term can lead to something deeper than you could ever imagine. To make it work, though, one must be ready to make sacrifices, while also trying to remember the qualities that made the other person so desirable in the first place. That idea may sound simple, but Before Midnight makes it as exciting as any action movie. If you've followed this series, as I have, you genuinely care about Jesse and Celine by this point. You want to see them figure out how to keep their marriage strong.
The Before series is a marvel of performance. Hawke and Delpy do long, unbroken takes of authentic-sounding conversation. Sometimes scenes last eight, nine, ten minutes. This gives them adequate time to dig deep into their characters, to show how Jesse and Celine connect and respond to each other. I forget that I am watching actors. That's how real they feel. The dialogue, which stems from workshopping techniques they do with Linklater, has such a natural ring that you get completely drawn in. Static shots of people talking never become boring. Like My Dinner with Andre, this series proves that the art of good conversation is more enthralling than a car chase or a shootout.
Before Midnight is my favorite film in the trilogy. I don't know that it's necessarily better than the other two; I think it's just that my investment in the characters is greater at this point, having followed their story over the years. This new movie builds pleasingly upon the previous chapters, leaving us with an ending that is incredibly satisfying in its honesty. Before Midnight is a smart, insightful, and poignant examination of grown-up romance. I hope to catch up with Jesse and Celine again in another nine years.
( 1/2 out of four)
Before Midnight is rated R for sexual content/nudity and language. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!