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Before Midnight

by Leonard Maltin
May 24, 2013 12:00 AM
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Judy Delpy-Ethan Hawke-485
Photo by Despina Spyrou - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

If you’ve followed the saga of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, from their initial flirtation in Before Sunrise (1995) to their Paris reunion in Before Sunset (2004) you’ll definitely want to see Before Midnight, even if you don’t find the results as fully satisfying as the previous installments in this trilogy. I liked the first film fairly well, but I loved the second, because I was drawn to the idea of two people getting a chance to rethink a missed opportunity.

Many viewers will find it just as easy to relate to the older, more settled couple depicted in Before Midnight. Now in their early 40s, they’re raising twin daughters and winding up an idyllic summer in Greece, where Hawke’s teenage son (from his first, failed marriage) has spent quality time with them. The boy’s departure for America spurs the first of many lengthy conversations that anchor Richard Linklater’s film.

Romance and wistful yearning have given way to bickering and the airing of long-held resentments, especially on Delpy’s part. The dialogue is never dull or one-sided; these are intelligent, articulate people, given to debate and philosophizing. That, and the evocative Greek scenery, guarantees that Before Midnight is never uninteresting…but it doesn’t flow as easily or seem as organic as the first two films.

There are some wonderful sequences, especially a dinner party at the home of the couple’s gracious Greek host (played by veteran cinematographer Walter Lassally, making his acting debut). Here, other characters get a chance to weigh in on the topic of love and the challenges of couplehood.

Linklater and his two actors, who collaborated on the screenplay, score plenty of points for pulling off this experiment as well as they have. Not many filmmakers, or performers, could get so much mileage out of two people walking and talking. Still, I must confess that I didn’t enjoy this chapter of their story as much as I wanted to. Is that the romantic in me, wanting to deny the inevitable bumps and bruises of a long-term relationship? Or is it simply that Before Midnight is less entertaining than its predecessors? I suppose that’s all in the eye of the beholder.


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  • Michel | July 10, 2013 8:54 PMReply

    I am a fan of the first two films, and was not disappointed with the third entry. Au contraire. Like Jeffrey, I salute the frankness of the film, although I found the last half-hour a bit distressing after the more easy-going tone of what precedes. Like you Leonard, I loved the diner scene. To me, it sounded like natural conversation among friends after a glass of wine or two. It may not be Shakespeare, but it was fun. In fact, I would have loved to be there with them, and I suspect I am not alone. Overall, despite the rupture in tone mentioned above, Before Midnight might actually be my favorite entry in the series. To be sure, I will have to see the three films again back to back on DVD. I enjoy it in advance.

  • david johnson | June 21, 2013 5:05 PMReply

    I found Before Midnight one of the worst movies I have ever seen and am surprised that LM could find anything good in it. I found the dinner conversation scene that he so praises as one of the most self-conscious, shallow, pathetic attempts at screen-writing I've seen in a long time. Patrick Leigh Fermor (who is the real-life host here, recently deceased) would NEVER have put up with such a group, especially the silly and childish ramblings the director and actors have regurgitated and given us, calling it a script. Shame on you Leonard!

  • Jeffrey | June 8, 2013 5:18 PMReply

    The film has a lot of realism in that it portrays how difficult marriage can be. What I take away from this is that the filmmakers did not want things to end on a blissful or naive note. The third entry in this remarkable trilogy has us thinking about how life gets harder and more complicated as we age. Is the general tone carefree and innocent? No, not anymore. Are there signs of hope? Of course. Its not brilliant or poetic, but it does offer a provocative take on confronting life's challenges once youth and idealism are gone.

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