I’m going to come right out and say it: If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, do not–DO NOT–go see Before Midnight. It will be a miserable experience. You don’t even need to continue reading this review. The decision is made. You’re not going to go see Before Midnight. Go see France Ha. Or heck, how about Fast and Furious 6? Or better yet, you can watch the first two movies and THEN go see Before Midnight.
But even if you HAVE seen the first two movies, be prepared, as you may still find Before Midnight to be a miserable experience.
I’m roughly the same age as the characters of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), which means I was a young romantic full of philosophical life questions when I saw Before Sunrise, and a heartbroken and slightly jaded thirtysomething when I saw its sequel, Before Midnight. It’s a unique experience to see movie characters grow and change at the same rate and ways that you do, and that’s why I will always appreciate these movies, even if I don’t always love them.
Before Midnight picks up nine years after the last movie. As that one ended on a slightly ambiguous note–you don’t know if they get together or not–it’s slightly spoilery to reveal that, yes, they did get together, and they’ve been together ever since. (They are not, however, married, as I’ve seen reported in some stories about the movie.) Not only that, but they’ve got two kids–twin girls– while Jesse is also father to a teenage boy, from a previous marriage.
The movie takes place during the last night of a summer vacation in Greece, and over the course of much conversation with friends they’re vacationing with, and between Jesse and Celine, we learn what happened in those nine years since their reunion in Paris.
Nine years is way past the honeymoon phase of a relationship, and the wear and tear is showing in the fabric of Jesse and Celine’s romance. Where the past two movies had the two of them essentially getting to know each other through conversation, this one shows that while they certainly know each other very well–in some cases too well, as aspects of the relationship have become routine–they can still be surprised by truths that are revealed.
When I saw the movie, I hadn’t seen the second one since it came out in 2004, and it was about that long since I’d seen the first one. I will admit I found Before Midnight to be a bit of a chore to sit through. It’s not an exaggeration to say the majority of the movie is Celine and Jesse arguing. And as true to life as that may be, it’s still not exactly an enjoyable night at the movies.
But I didn’t want this third entry in the series to sully my appreciation of the first two, so I went home and re-watched them. And it made me appreciate Before Midnight a bit more. When you see them close together, you are more able to recognize callbacks to previous conversations, and see how these callbacks are important to the characters. (The ending of Before Midnight involves a bit of storytelling by Jesse that is very similar to a conversation he had with Celine when he first met her on that train oh so many years ago.)
So, while I can’t recommend Before Midnight as a standalone movie, I can say that, as an entry in the series, it is an important, if not exactly enjoyable, entry. And I hope against hope that it is not the last visit we have with Jesse and Celine, and that in nine years from now, I’ll be back here reviewing Before Dusk.