Before Midnight (15)
Director: Richard Linklater
Running time: 109 minutes
Star rating: * * *
Eighteen years ago, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy teamed up with director Richard Linklater to make what is probably the chattiest movie romance ever. Sex and careers, parenting and adultery: nothing was left undiscussed.
The film, Before Sunrise, followed American Jesse and French Celine having a day-long conversation on a train and then spending a night together in Vienna. Nine years later, the same team got together again for Before Sunset, another one-day conversation. Now, in Before Midnight, they still have plenty to say, but the conversation is angrier than before and often brutal.
This ongoing arthouse series must surely amount to the lowest-grossing trilogy in movie history¸ a study of self-absorption that both attracts and repels. Now in their 40s, Celine and Jesse are unmarried, but have twin girls and get visits from Jesse’s sweet son from his first marriage. When we catch up with them, they are holidaying in Greece, a little older, a little more lined, and trying to balance careers and family.
What hasn’t changed is that it’s a struggle to get a word in edgeways. Celine and Jesse have never stopped talking about their relationship. However, even they don’t expect the day to take a darker turn when they check into a hotel for some sexy time and wind up listing grievances.
Linklater, Delpy and Hawke have again workshopped their dialogue to sound loose and improvised in long, uninterrupted takes. This time, it feels a bit strained; the flow of conversation slides into sudden confrontations over misunderstandings that make Celine seem at best a little thin-skinned, and occasionally rather demented. And at a holiday lunch with several other couples, Celine and Jesse dominate the table like a pair of Mussolinis, without provoking the slightest eye-roll from their other diners, or a whispered “next time, it’s Devon, with Mum”.
Most long-term couples have ground rules about arguments to prevent them going nuclear; when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor had barneys, it was understood that she would never mention his bad skin, and he would omit her incipient double chin. Jesse and Celine, for all their compulsive chat, don’t seem to have negotiated any kind of Couples’ Geneva Convention, and when she tells him he’s useless in bed, you can’t help reflecting that this is a dealbreaker that a real relationship would struggle to recover from that night, if ever.
Even so, Before Midnight still contains more shrewd and candid insights than many Hollywood midlife crisis dramas. Falling in love is easy. Staying in love isn’t just harder, it’s more complex. This film is as imperfect as any long-term relationship, but it makes Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 look like Terry And June. «
On general release from Friday