Before Midnight

before midnight

  • I have not seen the first two “Before” films Linklater, Delpy and Hawke made in 1995 and 2004.
  • So why did I attend Before Midnight? It has a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A rating I don’t get. At all. Must be critics who enjoy the gimic of following a relationship over 20-ish years. Cuz taken on its own terms, I think this one is nigh unbearable.
  • These are not characters that have been in a serious relationship the last 9 years, with twin girls the last 7 of those. No. These are characters that barely know one another. They philosophize too much. They have too many untold stories about childhood. And that is the biggest problem. The conversations feel off. The revelations wrong. The laundry lists of resentments feel like a forced insertion, not a natural, if regrettable, result of a lengthy relationship and a stressful custody situation. One review I read said something akin to ‘These are not people who have been in a relationship the last nine years. These are people who are catching up after nine years apart.’ I completely agree.
  • Hawke and Delpy are both very good, with natural improvisational ease.
  • But so many of the conversations last several minutes longer than they ought to. Characters talk too much and do too little, much like they do in another critically acclaimed Linklater film, “Waking Life.”
  • Also, neither of these characters is the least bit likeable. Hawk’s Jessie is condescending and cruel. Delpy’s Celine is shrill and self-absorbed. Both look for opportunities to hurt the other at almost every turn. The few moments of sweetness that they share are not enough to erase or make up for the moments of sheer meanness and unfairness. I wanted them both to shut up.
  • For all of that, this picture has an interesting concept. Follow a relationship long term and study what actual human relationships are like. How they start (the first film, from 1995). How they mature (second from 2004 and now this one). How they continue. And so I get what Linklater, Hawke and Delpy are doing. Which is the primary reason I don’t give Before Midnight an F.
  • But while I get what they’re doing, I think they did it badly. At least if this one is taken as a stand-alone product.
  • Final Grade: D-

9 thoughts on “Before Midnight

  1. Oh god you really hated this one, a LOT more than I’d expected.

    You kind of need to see the first two to get the big picture. Then again, I can’t really see you liking those two. They’re both very talkative, and on top of that, the second movie is in real time. Which helps the pacing if you can deal with the talkativeness, but also vice-versa.

    I think I wrote in my review (up December 10th) that they’re just ordinary people in mid-life crises, and they have reason to complain. In Before Sunrise, it was all about these two young (or then-young) lovers. In Before Sunset, they were married, but not to each other, and their lives were unavoidably revolving around a few other people. Now they’re struggling in that their lives revolve around everyone except themselves. Their kids, the people in Greece, etc. It feels like we hardly see them together anymore, except when they’re arguing. Seeing it unfold (especially as if the three were one whole movie) is really neat, I thought.

    I’m not sure if I read correctly, but did you say the dialogue was…forced? Sorry. I just really love the way Linklater spends forty minutes on one argument. It flew right by for me.

    I don’t mean to nitpick, but it’s not really a romance that happens over two decades in these movies. In the first movie, it’s just a one-night stand, and they’re afraid that’s all it will ever be; they live so far apart, and they don’t know how to reach each other. In the second movie, they happen upon each other (nine years later) in Paris, and they’re “just friends,” or “friends with benefits.” Then they’re engaged in the third movie. Yet this is all only because of their denial of their relationship. A married couple would probably follow the same pattern.

    Good review, no less!

    • From dialogue in the third, I get the impression finding each other in the second was not an accident. Doesn’t Celine say she sought out Jesse, after reading his book? Do I have that wrong?

      Anyway, I think the third summarizes the first two movies pretty well – I understand how the relationship unfolds, at least the big picture, even if I didn’t explain that well in my review.

      Is this too talky? A little. But I don’t mind talky when done well; I just don’t think it’s done well here. It has many conversations between emotional partners of 9 years. And those conversations don’t sound the way real nine year partners talk. These people haven’t been together the last 9 years; they’re catching up after 9 years apart.

      And that is my biggest problem with this film. Maybe I wouldn’t feel that way if I’d seen the other two. Hard to say, but having been in a successful long term relationship the last 18 + years, a big part of me doubts it.

      Still, I know I’m in the minority. You feel the way most folks do, and so I take and accept your points as valid. 😉

      • Oh. I’d forgotten about that thing about the book. In the second movie she pretends to have happened upon him, I guess.

        I don’t get what you mean by 9 years apart. Were they? I thought they were together between Before Sunset and Before Midnight.

        Thanks. 🙂

      • They were. And that’s my issue. I don’t think they act like a couple that has been together that long.

        Again, though, I am definitely in the minority. As in the 1-3% minority. 🙂

    • Oh. Since you directly brought up the forty minute fight. Let me clarify, I think it easily the best part of this movie, as uncomfortable as it is. Real couples can and do fight like that, where we knowingly say things we shouldn’t in moments we know we shouldn’t. We do it because we can’t help ourselves; even as our intellect tells us to stop talking, we just can’t. We’re too angry. Delpy, Hawke and Linklater capture this phenomenon beautifully, if we consider the fight a stand alone scene.

      My problem is what comes before that scene. I don’t accept that these characters have this much emotional baggage. They don’t relate to each other the way such couples usually do – they relate to one another as people who have been apart for a long time, not as people who have been together. When the fight finally happens, and we get their laundry lists of resentments, I personally have a hard time accepting them as real, because what comes before doesn’t make me accept the relationship itself as real.

      It’s not the dialogue I think forced, per se. It’s the connection between the people speaking. That make sense?

  2. Interesting take on this one. I really think that it’s critical to have followed Celine & Jesse over the years to fully appreciate this one. They have changed *a lot* by the time Before Midnight takes place, and it’s kind of hard to stomach their arguing at times (though to me it feels 100% authentic). I still highly recommend giving the first two films a shot — they will really put this one in perspective.

    • I will probably watch them at some point. I will say the hotel room argument itself is authentic. Real couples can and, sadly, do fight like that sometimes.

      It’s what comes before that 30+ minute argument that doesn’t ring true to me.

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