Before Midnight

Before Midnight ★★★★

What I think makes Before Midnight the second best film in the “Before Trilogy” is its focus on consequences. As both Jesse and the audience learn within the first fifteen minutes of this film: You don’t just divorce your wife of five years to marry a French woman you met once a decade ago, and live happily ever after. 

This film is the most plot heavy of the three, which makes sense given the aforementioned focus on consequences. Jesse and Celine, now together for the better part of a decade and raising twin daughters, have been vacationing in the gorgeous Southern Peloponnesus region of Greece for the last several months. The day the film starts, Jesse’s son Hank departs Greece to return home to his mother, Jesse’s ex-wife Gretchen, who hates Jesse’s guts. This departure, and the baggage surrounding it becomes the impetus of the conflict between Jesse and Celine, as Jesse wishes to move back to the States to be closer to Hank, while Celine wishes to stay in France, which is both the home of her and her children, and where a potentially important job opportunity awaits her. 

This conflict boils under the surface for most of the film before erupting in one of the most realistic and uncomfortable marital spats I’ve ever seen (Marriage Story, eat your heart out). It was really hard to watch all the resentment and ugliness these characters either buried in Before Sunset or developed over the intervening nine years explode to the surface. Personally, I sided more with Celine in this argument than Jesse, but I liked Jesse enough as a character for most of the film that I wanted him to stop talking and just apologize. For similar reasons, I didn’t hate Celine when she talked shit about Jesse’s ex-wife who, despite the fact I wanted Celine and Jesse to get together in Before Sunset, I completely sympathize with. If my husband of five years left me for some French woman he knew for one day ten years ago, I’d hate him too. What I think made this conflict so enjoyable (and uncomfortable) to watch unfold were the performances of the two leads. Like in Before Sunset, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy disappeared completely into their characters, and brought the charm, wisdom and ignorance of middle age to bear in it’s entirety. 

Other than the plot and the two leads, I loved the film’s setting, and its cast of supporting characters. While it could be argued that Vienna and its citizens were the collective third character in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset was a two person show, so it was nice to have other actual characters for Jesse and Celine to bounce off of. The setting of Greece, unfortunately, was not one of those supporting characters. However, unlike Paris in Before Sunset, Before Midnight’s gorgeous cinematography and great sound design kept Greece from slipping entirely into the background. 

There are two things that hold this film back from reaching the heights of Before Sunset for me, however. 

First, it feels bloated. Before Midnight is the longest film in the trilogy, and while I think it justified its runtime more than Before Sunrise, it was still hard to go from a lean, mean 80 minute film to a long, sometimes meandering 109 minute film. 

Second, Before Midnight did not stick the landing in my opinion. I wasn’t expecting this film to top one of the best, if not the best, ending lines in film history: “Baby... you are gonna miss that plane.” (Thank you Liv for making that point), it just needed an ending which worked in the context of the film. Instead, it ended in a way that, if I were Celine, I would have told Jesse to go fuck himself (which she initially does). That’s not to say the acting in the scene was bad, or that I outright hated it, but it would have been nice if Jesse could have just come out and say what he meant rather than hide behind a stupid story. I’m glad that it worked because I liked the characters, and I respect this ending because it’s somewhat believable, but it left me with an overall “meh”feeling rather than the strong, capital “E” Emotions I felt after finishing Before Sunrise.

Overall, my ranking of the Before Trilogy is 1.) Before Sunset (one of my favorite films of all time, head and shoulders the best one), 2.) Before Midnight (a great film with some fantastic acting and standout moments) and 3.) Before Sunrise (A good film that does some interesting stuff, and captures a unique time and place, but is dragged down by pacing and writing issues).