Movie review: Decades-long romance continues with impeccable “Before Midnight”

By Columbus Alive
From the June 13, 2013 edition

Summer is typically a season of sequels, but “Before Midnight” is not a typical summer sequel. Let’s recap how we got here.

In 1995, director Richard Linklater followed up the success of “Dazed and Confused” with “Before Sunrise,” a tale of a chance encounter between a scruffy-chinned American named Jesse (Ethan Hawk) and a fetching Frenchwoman named Celine (Julie Delpy). They hop off a train and spend a glorious night walking and talking their way through Vienna. As they say goodbye, they hastily vow to meet again in six months.

In 2004, the director and actors reunited for “Before Sunset.” Nearly a decade after their meeting, Jesse is doing an international tour for a book he wrote that was inspired by events of the first film. Celine shows up at a signing, and the two spend an afternoon in Paris. An ambiguous ending leaves open possibilities.

Nearly another decade later, revisiting Jesse and Celine feels like reconnecting with old friends, as long as you found the first two films endearing. I know a number of friends who find them unbearably precocious, but those people have no hearts. (I kid, friends.)

A lot of the joys in the film are in the reveal, so I won’t spoil any surprises for fans of the series. Another nine years have passed, and this time we meet Jesse and Celine in a small Greek coastal village.

As we sit nearly two decades from our first meeting of these characters, it’s a unique joy to reflect on how they (and we) have grown. Linklater and Co. continue to talk things out, but there’s a maturity in the content, the acting and the filmmaking here. And clearly everything still fits like a glove.

“Before Midnight” is denser than its predecessors, more layered. It explores love, aging, art, friendships, independence and more … and once again, it is generally just a collection of conversations.

Over the course of this review, I’ve purposely avoided calling this series a trilogy, in part because I don’t want to jinx it. “Before Midnight” is such a winner, I hope we meet Celine and Jesse again in another decade.