Sundance 2013 Review: Before Midnight

'This may be Richard Linklater’s best movie.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

It’s funny when the second sequel to a studio movie can be the indie event of Sundance. Before Sunrise played Sundance but it was already a Columbia production. Before Sunset ended up at Warner Independent and Before Midnight has no studio logo as of now. So let’s see what Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are up to now.

Jesse has a son who stayed the summer with him in Greece, but has to go home today. He also has two blonde daughters with Celine, though they are not married. Celine has an environmental job involving putting up wind turbines. They spend the rest of the day talking, as Jesse and Celine do, with friends for one section but alone with each other for the most significant run of the movie.

In my reviews I normally attempt to provide analysis without revealing anything. Since Before Midnight is all dialogue, let me be clear that my descriptions are all my own analysis, not what they’re specifically saying. We’ll issue a mild spoiler warning anyway, because you’ll probably be able to deduce some things, but it’s only my interpretation so I may be tricking you into believing a false spoiler.

The conversation Jesse and Celine have in their 40s is philosophically different than they had in Before Sunset,although maybe a natural extension of Sunset. They realize children remember their own childhood differently than their parents remember it. Celine is no longer a young girl enamored with a smooth-talking artist. She doesn’t like Jesse’s scruff anymore and sees behavior that used to endear him to her as something that could negatively influence their daughters.

She’s loving about it. She still loves him but she comes from a life of much more discernment now. She’s thinking long term about how a feeling they have now could lead to something down the road, and she’s right. Recognizing those possibilities, however, gives me confidence that these two will have the strength to weather each step along their path, but we’ll have to wait another 10 years for Before Fourthmeal to see if any of her predictions come true.

When they meet up with friends, the older generation observes younger couples as the new romance. Long-distance couples Skype now, so Before Sunrise would not even exist today. Romance is now for the kids and the grown-ups have a different kind of love, yet it’s not cynical. It’s just as loving, and I hate to call it more mature, but that’s the most accurate distinction. There’s a lot of men vs. women talk but it’s way smarter than the average standup comedian. Celine gets Jesse’s ego now and she accepts it. She is actually somewhat bitter, but so playful about it that it’s not a turnoff. The characters make very perceptive observations about male and female motivation, and Celine’s bimbo act is cute, even though it’s sarcastic.

Once they’re alone again, Celine starts fishing for the old romance from the train 20 years ago. It seems they only talk like this once every 10 years, because the rest of the time they’re handling mundane daily life with their kids. So it’s a good thing these are the days we catch them. Amidst all their philosophical ideas, Jesse and Celine are hilarious. I knew they were always articulate but I don’t remember them being this funny. There’s some really dark death talk and really highbrow sex jokes. Hawke and Delpy are having fun with it, they’re never as smug as people this smart could rightfully be, and Hawke was in Generation X so he’s done smug.

The sun doesn’t even set until an hour into the movie so they could call this Before Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight if they were really accurate about it. After sunset is when the film gets really meaty though, and you can tell I was already into it before. Midnight is the first Before movie with an actual love scene in it, and it reflects particularly well on Delpy. She is so comfortable in this extended scene that it never feels exploitive, and while enamored with her beauty we are still riveted by the deep talk she and Hawke are having.

In the most intense exchange, Celine and Jesse talk about rational thinking versus emotion, but he’s more emotional than he thinks and she’s more rational than he acknowledges. Celine is just going cathartic, unloading everything she needs to. When it boils over, it’s as tense as any dark thriller I’ve seen at Sundance.

This may be Richard Linklater’s best movie. I’m going to watch Dazed and Confused again when I get home to be sure, but it’s definitely the best Before movie. At this point, after so many dialogue movies, his actors have it down to accommodate his long takes. The first Jesse/Celine dialogue scene in the car home from the airport is a single take with a camera locked off shooting through the windshield. I was reminded there are a few cutaways breaking up that car scene but I was so riveted I was convinced we were looking at a single two-shot the entire time. Linklater doesn’t overuse long takes though. The group scenes and the walk through Greece are edited, and when Jesse and Celine get going, you’re just captivated.

Before Midnight just destroyed me. These discussions are so deep, and it’s not about endorsing any worldview. It’s about being sensitive to those you love. That’s harder to make a movie about though. Everyone wants resolution and that’s easier to see in victory. When the endgame is love and support, it’s painful to get there and Before Midnight takes us on that emotional journey in 105 minutes.

Sundance 2013 Review: Before Midnight

Photo Credit: Despina Spyrou

Make sure to check out all of Crave Online's coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival here!

And check out these other reviews from Sundance 2013:

Who is Dayani Cristal?; starring Gael Garcia Bernal
Two Mothers; starring Robin Wright and Naomi Watts
Austenland; starring Keri Russell
Emmanuel and the Truth About Fishes; starring Kaya Scodelario
Don Jon's Addiction; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson
Virtually Heroes; produced by Roger Corman
Breathe In; starring Felicity Jones and Guy Pierce
Inequality for All; featuring Robert Reich
Blue Caprice; starring Isaiah Washington and Tim Blake Nelson
Fill the Void; starring Renana Raz
Running From Crazy; featuring Mariel Hemingway
Wrong Cops; starring Steve Little
Hell Baby; starring Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb
Stoker; starring Nicole Kidman
Escape from Tomorrow; shot without permits at Disney World
We Are What We Are; starring Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner
Afternoon Delight; starring Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple
Ass Backwards; starring Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael
I Used to Be Darker; starring Deragh Campbell
Magic Magic; starring Juno Temple
Prince Avalanche; starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch
Sweetwater; starring January Jones, Jason Isaacs and Ed Harris
Crystal Fairy; starring Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffman
S-VHS; sequel to found footage horror film V/H/S
Lovelace; starring Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard and Sharon Stone
The East; starring Brit Marling and Alexander Saarsgaard
After Tiller, about abortion doctor George Tiller
Citizen Koch, about The Koch Brothers and campaign finance contributions
Gangs of Wasseypur, a 5 1/2 hour Indian crime epic
In Fear, a horror movie set entirely within a car
The Rambler, starring Dermot Mulroney
What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love, about a school for the blind and deaf
Upstream Color; starring Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.