Us Rating: *** 1/2
It’s time to fall in love with Jesse and Celine.
You already know them, of course. Intimately. In 1995's Before Sunrise, the idealistic American writer (Ethan Hawke) met his hyper-analytical French muse (Julie Delpy) on a train. They sparked immediately and spent the night in Vienna together. Nine years later in Before Sunset, they reunited, sharing a magical afternoon wandering the streets of Paris.
Their story continues in Before Midnight, which premiered Jan. 20 at the Sundance Film Festival (2 hours and 15 minutes before midnight, by the way). The film might not be as achingly romantic as its predecessors, but it is every bit as soulful and stirring.
So where are Jesse and Celine now? In picturesque Greece, on the cusp of ending a summer sojourn with their young twin girls. (Sorry for the mild spoiler. Had to do it. Like ripping off a Band-Aid). The still-unmarried pair may be more wrinkled, but they remain enamored and amused by each other. In honor of their last night in town, friends have gifted them with a no-kids night in a quaint local hotel.
Because this is a thought-provoking drama and not some trite rom-com, the couple goes deep immediately with meditations of life and love. Think This is 41: Is their passion gone? Will they still love each other when they reach their golden years? If Jesse had met Celine on a train tonight, would he still ask her to get off at the stop with him? "I'm a fat ass middle-aged mom losing her hair!" Celine wails. Yes, director Richard Linklater, Hawke and Delpy have once again crafted a running dialogue so heartfelt, honest and natural, you have to lean forward in your seat just to absorb it all. (Fun fact: The three were nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar for Before Sunset. Proof that the script is not improvised!)
And another nod to the leads for officially setting the high-water mark that all other movie couples must now aspire to achieve. Over the course of 18 years, Jesse and Celine's bedroom rendezvous have turned more sensuous, while their fights have become more heated and raw. (If anything, too raw. That youthful flirting is long gone, friends). But take heart: Jesse and Celine are a pair to be reckoned with, and they still have plenty of hope on the horizon.