Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy eight years older and still talking in “Before Midnight”
Director Richard Linklater
Screenplay by Richard Linklater and Julie Delpy
Starring: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Was there ever a more charming franchise than the Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke-Richard Linklater series that began with “Before Sunrise” (1995), when two young students met cute on a train to Vienna?
She’s French, he’s American, and they can’t stop talking. It sounded ad-libbed, but their dialogue was co-written by Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater, mining their own lives.
The third in this talking triathlon is Before Midnight, and it’s the most profound Delpy-Hawkes talkathon to date. It’s another thinking woman’s romantic comedy, and a total heart-wrencher.
By now the pair are accidental parents whom child-rearing have worn to a nub. Jesse is guilt-ridden over the child he’s just put on the plane to his ex-wife, who lives in Chicago.
They’re on a writing holiday in southern Greece, where Jesse is working on a book, and Delpy and their kids hang out with Greek friends. The lovers remain unmarried, and they’ve been living in Paris near her parents with the twins.
Again, it’s co-written by cast and director, and judging by its loose grace might as well be ad-libbed. But again, it isn’t improvised; and makes you wonder if, like Michael Apted’s “Up” or Francois Truffaut’s series of films chronicling the life of Antoine Doinel, with any luck this couple will set sail into our screens every damned decade or so as we age until “Before Eternity,” with Delpy more broad-beamed, loquacious and argumentative than ever.
During their first 1995 encounter, they spent all night walking and arguing but didn’t get around to making love until dawn. They vowed to meet again in six months, but at the movie’s end, we don’t know if they will.
But love breeds memory and desire: or desire, then memory. Nine years later, in Before Sunset (2004), Jesse’s unhappily married, a dad and author. Celine’s an artist who loves Nina Simone. Again they meet cute, at a book signing, and spend all day walking and talking on streets and the Seine. Soon he’s rushing to catch his plane home.
But then Celine plays Nina Simone. Delpy talking about Simone is so French and funny it may be everyone’s idea of a pivotal plot moment. And we don’t know if Jesse makes his plane.
(N.B. He missed it, and the rest is history.)
This time Jesse and Celine are holidaying on the Mani peninsula and once again the story perpetuates the endless tangle of the two, now parents in their forties, but still talking. Is Celine’s talkativeness still as charming to Jesse as it was twenty years ago? At one dinner table scene, she does a take-off of one of his sycophantic girl bimbos. On balance he’s still charmed.
But he wants to move back to get closer to his son. Celine has meanwhile been offered a tempting job in Paris, and doesn’t want to move, least of all to Chicago. (Here’s where Roger Ebert would give a raspberry.)
As writers who discuss life and love over good food, their friends represent three generations at different ages and stages in their lives and relationships. A row between Jesse and Celine erupts after their Greek friends insist on giving them a couple massage and free hotel night to release them from childcare. Reluctantly, they accept.
At first things look promising. Celine even gets topless. Next she’s shouting, “You get cute, then you get in my panties, and next thing I know I’m buying peanut butter in Chicago!”
Who is this woman? “The crazy Mayor of f***g crazy town!” as Jesse yells back. At least they’re still talking. Does he still find her attractive? Will he in fifty years? Does he regret losing his son to this passion? After she takes off her thong, they row and she puts it back on, then they cry in rage, they split up, she walks out, and again, you don’t know if they’ll ever get together again … oy!
Above all, of course, they talk about love in youth, middle age, and at the end; how to make love last, if it can last, and how children capsize even this talking streak. Since they’re dealing home truths from the frontline between men and women, maybe this is something to take your beloved to.
Or not! She’s talking more than ever. Is she going to carry on up to “Before Bingo” and “Beyond the Grave”? Ultimately, you side with Jesse when he calls her “the Mayor of f****g Crazy Town.”
At another point, a dinner guest describes her grandmother telling her that friends and work mean much more than love. Love screws you up, and when you blow it up into something unreal, you doom yourself. We can all argue about that one.