Scenery’s better than in real life, but it’s authentic at core
She: “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane.”
He: “I know.”
Does that exchange immediately fill you with a sense of wistfulness? Then you’re probably a fan of Jesse and Celine, a.k.a. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, whose insanely romantic final scene in Before Sunset nine years ago left moviegoers hanging — deliciously, infuriatingly, agonizingly! — and wondering if they’d ever know what came next for this appealing duo.
Well, we’re finally getting the answer — and it was worth the wait. Before Midnight, the third movie in the Richard Linklater series that began with 1995’s Before Sunrise, is not only as good as the first two, it’s arguably better, tackling weightier, trickier issues — as in, mature everyday love — with wit, humor and breathtaking directness.
One of the unique things about this series is that the characters have aged in real time, meaning we’ve all aged with them. Not that most of us look as good in our 40s as Jesse and Celine. But still, hair is graying now just a bit, skin is wrinkling, middles softening.
More important, though, it’s life that looks different for Jesse and Celine. If you recall, these two had one of the more romantic cinematic hookups in recent memory in Before Sunrise, meeting on a train rolling through picturesque European countryside and getting off together in Vienna for a night of walking, talking and falling in love.
They parted in the morning, with plans to meet six months later. That didn’t work out, and so after nine years of longing — and for him, an unhappy marriage and a son — they rediscovered each other in Before Sunset.
In Before Midnight, the setting is still gorgeous — it’s a summer vacation in Greece. But the rest is different. Jesse and Celine are a mature couple with twin daughters.
A feeling of absolute authenticity comes through at the very beginning, in a simple airport farewell between Jesse and his son, Henry (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who’s been visiting for the summer.
In the long drive back to their vacation villa, Jesse and Celine converse in the relaxed, rambling way couples do, and yet we know trouble is ahead. A guilt-ridden Jesse worries about Henry — he can’t even pitch a baseball right, because he doesn’t live with Dad — and Celine worries that Jesse will force her to give up her job in Paris, where they live, and move to the States.
Delpy gives Celine a new hardness here, an edge that we saw only a bit in the previous film. And Hawke is extremely effective as a man who adores his partner but is increasingly frustrated with her.
It all comes to a head in a humdinger of a fight — just Jesse and Celine in a hotel room, plus a bottle of wine that doesn’t get drunk.
The script, co-written by director Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, is at its best here, funny and biting. No ending spoilers here. But let’s just say there’s certainly fodder for a fourth movie.
Rated R, 109 minutes.
Opens Friday in wide release.