Part 3: RLA Reviews “Before Midnight”

29 May

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As we’re growing up, most of us become very familiar (one might even say, inundated) with the “Happily Ever After” trope. The conflict typically comes in a heterosexual couple getting together. There’s Cinderella having to take her rightful place as royalty to get to her prince. There’s Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel having to be rescued by their princes. There are even couples who tragically meet their end, but still seem totally in love beforehand, like Romeo & Juliet or, in another way, Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund*. But throughout all of their trials and tribulations, the couples never tire of each other, or become angry with each other. We never see them struggling with staying true to their own identity while trying to be considerate of the other person.

*I had to Bing who Rick and Ilsa were, even though I’ve seen Casablanca.


Enter the “Before” trilogy. Jesse and Celine had a storybook romance* as young people on a train in Europe. Jesse literally put their story in a book**, which is how Celine rediscovers him. Now it’s nine years later, the couple have been together for a long while, started a family, and are vacationing in Greece with a writer friend of Jesse’s. As romantic and fanciful as you might think such a vacation would be*** — this is when reality creeps into the romance. Celine has always been a strong female personality, a self-proclaimed feminist and a very clear activist. Now, she must reconcile this innate desire to have her own life with the immediate and more heady needs of her family. It’s not easy.

*I’d argue it started as a storybook romance, but we never felt all that confident in their happily ever after the first two films.

**Totally something I’d do. I think you’d enjoy me writing about you more than she does, though*. *Duh. Dependent on what you say, of course.

***We really do need to go to Greece.


Once again, the acting in this film is enthralling*. You’ll get wrapped up in the energy and the story. Very telling is the fact that, unlike in the other two films, this one does not simply revolve around conversations had only between Jesse and Celine. They are no longer allowed the luxury of waxing poetic about life, death and the meaning of it all. Now, there are other actors**, other players in their story. But of course, the most magical moments still occur when Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are alone.

*They have so much chemistry on screen that Caitlin had me look up if Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were married in real life after the first film. It’s only grown since then**I’ve been wondering if whoever their real-life partners are ever feel threatened by these two working together. It’s Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks-level magic/friendship, from everything I can tell.

**We start with an incredibly charming conversation with Jesse and his son with the woman he left for Celine. Jesse’s dropping him off at the airport to go back to Chicago to be with his mom after spending the summer with our favorite couple. This sets up the biggest issue of the film, but I’ll let you watch it.


It’s not an easy film to watch*. It’s beautifully done, but unlike the other two which are so lovely and dreamlike, “Before Midnight” is a bucket of ice water and snap to the reality of being in a modern day relationship**. It’s tough to watch familiar arguments play out*** on the big screen between a couple you’ve come to know and adore, but at the same time, there’s comfort in it. Unlike the fairy tales of our youth that, when you examine them closely, really aren’t all that appealing, this is real, and it has a gut and some stretch marks and grey hair. 

*(Nods grimly)

**(Still nodding grimly)

***We could really identify with their issues like weighing in on each other’s career choices and how even the mention of moving across the country can trigger a fight.


It forces viewers to take a step back, because you so desperately want to shake these two and ask them to take a deep breath so they don’t ruin something amazing. It’s so easy to get caught up in petty arguments*, feeling like another person is out to get you when they’re on your side all along. When a film can be both beautiful and a little bit ugly, and when it can show you the fairy tale and the reality, it can make you take stock in a way that can change your life**. That’s real magic.

*You really do find yourself rooting for them and try not to take sides, but they both struggle to listen to each other when they fight.

**Agreed, and if anything it made it feel more OK to have those arguments and know that they affect everyone, even the “fairy tale” couple Jesse and Celine. Make sure to see this one, and the whole trilogy in order if you haven’t yet.


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