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.