Film
8:33 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

Before Midnight: A love story we've followed 18 years

Four words that can strike terror into your heart when your partner says them: "We need to talk." It's almost always the start of something unpleasant. But when it's Jesse and Celine doing the chatting, the result is usually irresistible.

Jesse and Celine are the couple played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in director Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. He's American, she's French and they have now spent 18 years getting to know each other primarily through conversation. In 1995's Before Sunrise, they met for the first time and slowly fell in love. In Before Sunset, nine years later, they were reunited and tried to forge a future together.

In Before Midnight, the latest installment, we see them -- finally -- together, with a reasonably comfortable lifestyle in Paris and two angelic daughters. But there are a few potentially nasty problems on the horizon. They have conveniently neglected to tell their kids that they never actually got around to getting married. Both are uneasily adjusting to the realities of getting older. They are no longer the fresh-faced, idealistic romantics they were 18 years ago.

He's become a novelist and is struggling to find the balance between making art and marketing it. She's wrestling with the realization that working for noble causes can bring far more headaches and considerably less money than taking the public relations route. Both are attempting to deal with what to do about Jesse's teenage son from a previous marriage. The pressures are building, slowly, quietly but inexorably, and Jesse and Celine can see it in each other.

"I'm marking this," Celine announces to Jesse as he fumes about his career. "This is the day you're a ticking time bomb that will blow us apart." If Before Midnight is starting to sound unendurably grim, keep in mind that most of this material is handled with prickly wit and bittersweet humor by Hawke and Delpy, who collaborated on the screenplay with Linklater. As in the two earlier installments, the dialogue practically tickles your ears.

What a pleasure it is to hear intelligent, insightful discussion about the kinds of issues all of us can relate to on one level or another. Jesse talks about how he used to wish for time to speed up when he was younger, so that he could start his life and be on his own. After a while, however, he began to wish it would slow down. The movie doesn't sugarcoat the fact that maturity brings with it a certain degree of melancholy: No matter how much you've accomplished in life, there seems to be a point at which you wonder if all the real excitement, the joy of discovery, the invigorating heat of freedom is behind you.

"We always think we're evolving, but maybe we don't change that much," Celine says. Whether Jesse and Celine have changed and evolved is up to you to decide. But for those who loved Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the reassuring news is that Linklater, Hawke and Delpy have once again put together a film that's as fascinating as it is funny and poignant.

While you may not be in the mood to analyze your own relationship at length, it's a pleasure to eavesdrop on Jesse and Celine. Let's make a date to meet up again in another nine years, OK?