Finally, 18 years after the first film, Before Sunrise (1995) came out and 9 years after the sequel, Before Sunset (2004) came out, the final movie of the Before trilogy, Before Midnight, released in 2013 and concluded a love story that took place across two decades. Having now seen all three films, I can genuinely understand why this trilogy is so beloved and highly regarded. These romantic dramas have impeccable execution and direction that make them so enjoyable to watch. Interesting enough, Before Midnight has a significantly longer runtime than the previous two (1h 49m), but after finishing the movie, I can see it’s for a good reason. Instead of exploring the impact of first loves and maintaining a lovey dovey atmosphere, Before Midnight takes a more cynical approach in looking at how life can take a toll on our relationships.
Taking place in Greece, the film follows Jesse and Celine, now with two twin girls, as they spend a six week vacation there. While Jesse struggles to find ways to be more present with his son, Hank, who lives in Chicago under the custody of his ex-wife, Celine is anxiously considering a new job with the French government. There’s a lot more tension between the two this time around, with both of them facing personal internal conflicts that eventually explode. While there are definitely still thoughtful discussions of love and relationships in Before Midnight, it was interesting to see how parenthood and adulthood has shifted their conversations to personal wants and responsibilities.
Out of all the three movies, I personally found Before Midnight to have the most engaging and thoughtful conversations (and that’s saying something!). Now that Jesse and Celine have grown out of their honeymoon phase and have officially been together for nine years, it was fun seeing their discussions mature once more. The best part of this trilogy has been seeing Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy acting so wonderfully together; what made their entire “love story” feel so realistic was being able to watch them age and grow together. They’ve really cultivated an amazing chemistry across the years and their performances really speak to the heart. I can’t say enough about how phenomenal they both are and how such seemingly spontaneous and natural conversations could only be executed by a set of very talented actors themselves.
We definitely get a different feel of Jesse and Celine’s relationship in Before Midnight as Hawke and Delpy manage to beautifully and almost tragically depict a relationship on the edge of breaking apart. It’s clear that time and parenthood has dented that once strong connection, and instead of casual, thought-provoking conversations, we get to witness for the first time a full blown argument between the two. Honestly, that entire scene (and it’s a long one) felt so real that it was pretty uncomfortable for me to watch. There was so much tension lingering there and it was as if I was intruding in on a very personal fight. I’d say this argument was not only the climax of this film, but of the entire trilogy because it felt like their relationship all boiled down to this – could they set aside their differences and happily grow old together?
Admittedly, I found Celine to be a bit obnoxious in this one. She felt particularly selfish and I didn’t agree with her side of the argument or any of the points she was making. While she’s always aired this kind of crazy and independent way of thinking, she really let it all go in this fight.
The ending was seriously the perfect conclusion though and it really highlighted the complicated nature of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. It’s not all perfect and Before Midnight really shows the audience that. But just when you think all hope is lost and that Celine has finally given up, the return of their playful banter brings us back to Before Sunset (1995) where their love first grew. While it’s a bit ambiguous and unclear as to how things will really turn out, I personally got the feeling that they’ll be okay. I loved how these movies portrayed relationships as imperfect and that love is meant to be rocky. As I’ve mentioned before, these movies are so excellent based in realism and I admire how they never depict love as being some sort of flawless magic. There are ups and downs, and we definitely got to see that with Jesse and Celine’s relationship.
It’s been so wonderful seeing how director Richard Linklater was able to maintain the tone and direction across all three movies. While there’s been clear developments in cinema and technology (and it’s so cool that you can feel that within the movies), Linklater kept the Before trilogy feeling very intimate and small. Since this is my last review of this trilogy, I really just wanted to take a moment to compliment his work because I truly think he created something beautiful and worthwhile. I’ve never seen a romantic drama so pure, and I’m surely going to come back to this for a rewatch in the future.
Big thanks to my mom once again for recommending me this trilogy because I don’t think I would’ve known about it without her suggesting it. It’s always hard making a series of movies because there’s always this growing expectation that the next one has to be even better than the last one. And honestly? I really think Before Midnight tops it and is the best out of the three. What I appreciated was the rawness of the couple’s fight and the fearless exploration into the downside of relationships. It gave me the conclusion that I wanted, although it’s not the happily ever after you might expect out of a romance movie. But this isn’t a fairy tale, it’s real life, and I think their slow but sure reconciliation at the end was perfect. So for all its fantastic execution and very satisfying ending (in my opinion), I’m going to give Before Midnight a 9/10. The only thing that I didn’t really enjoy was Celine’s personality during the argument. But overall, I highly recommend this trilogy. This is the kind of movie where you’ll definitely want to watch all three in order so you can see Hawke and Delpy grow and develop together.