Friday, July 12, 2013

OSCAR WATCH: Before Midnight

When "Before Sunset" ended with Jesse leaving his wife to be with Celine, I always pondered the consequences of the decision. In effect, he went on a business trip and never came back home. It was a sweetly romantic ending for our main couple though, but yet you could tell that this relationship would have its difficulties too. From their conversations in that film, it was clear that a relationship with Celine would have its ups and downs. She's pessimistic about love and can quickly get into a funk. As a result, I was nervous before watching this movie, as I wanted to hold on to the idea of this perfect fairy tale romance. As I watched the film though, it became clear that it was a good decision to continue the story. Unlike other 2nd sequels, this film felt like a thoughtful, cohesive extension of its predecessors.
As I suspected, the pair have come into their own struggles when we meet them again 9 years later. The film begins with Jesse saying goodbye to his son (from the wife he unceremoniously dumped) at the end of their vacation in Greece. It quickly establishes that Jesse's decision understandably soured the relationship between him and his ex-wife. We also see the strong relationship between him and his son, which has significant implications due to the custody battle between the parents. It initially feels like an unrelated side plot, but it's pivotal to the plot.
As he returns to Celine and their own twin girls, we rekindle the famous romance of Celine and Jesse. Thankfully, the chemistry is still there, but there's a distinctly different vibe. The energy has changed, the youthful spark is diminished. They are now relaxed and comfortable with each other like an "old married couple". The most important thing though, is that they obviously still like each other a lot. They tease and joke around like the best of friends. The tone continues like that through a middle section where they are dining with some friends. They debate the value of romantic love, the loss of loved ones etc., letting the script come through nicely with some insightful discussions. Yet, I wonder if this section was necessary. The film just doesn't feel right as an ensemble piece and it came across as less naturalistic than the previous films. The presence of other characters requires an element of forced contrivance that's not as organic as when it's focused on the pair of lovers.
It doesn't last too long however and it serves a good function of setting up a hotel night for the two that really gets the plot in motion. As they make their way to the hotel, they get back to their wonderful tête-à-tête that brings a smile to your face. You can notice slight differences in their personalities (both good and bad). In particular, I was surprised at Celine's amazing sense of humour and by extension, Julie Delpy herself. Delpy proves to be a natural comedienne and I was often howling with laughter. I haven't seen many outright comedies this year, but this is definitely the funniest film I've seen in 2013. When they get to the hotel room however, that's when get down to the real "nitty gritty" of "Before Midnight".
I just claimed this to be a laugh riot, but that's not exactly true for the full runtime. As we delve into the development of their relationship since the previous film, the film becomes brutally honest about the darker side of marriage. We finally get to see a real argument between the pair and it was a proper argument indeed. It threatens to tear apart the whole relationship and it's quite tense. I wouldn't go into details, but believe me, it's powerful.
What eventually happens following the argument feels so perfectly in sync with what we know about the characters both individually and together. It's a unique situation where the actors have literally had decades to understand the characters, and it shows. The director and his actors have crafted a fitting end to the trilogy, truthfully revealing the harsh reality of longterm committement. It proves that even in the most amorous relationships, you sometimes have to fight to make the love last. It takes sacrifice and compromise. When two people complement each other as well as Celine and Jesse though, it's clearly worth the few emotional and psychological bruises along the way.
I would definitely recommend this film, though I personally don't think it's as excellent as the previous films. As I stated earlier, it sometimes lacked the naturalistic flow that I've come to expect. Likewise with the direction, it doesn't have the same affection for the setting in "Before Sunrise" and neither does it have the impressive unobtrusive long takes found in "Before Sunset". I also didn't like the new characterization of Jesse as a shallow horndog. It didn't jive with what we know of the character and it felt forced in to facilitate a cliche discussion about men thinking only with their penis. It takes away from some of the magic for me but overall, the film is deserving of its enthusiastic reception.

I will be curious to follow this film's road to Oscar. I fear that its lack of sentimentality could be seen by some as a lack of gravitas. Additionally, the early release date is usually not ideal for a major Oscar contender. It's got the goods though, so we'll just have to wait and see how long it can sustain its critical buzz when the later contenders enter the fray. We don't know what level of acting performances are in store, but I would definitely put Julie Delpy in contention for Best Actress. Ethan Hawke is good, but Delpy is the one that stands out more. She nails the humour but also shows great depth in the more emotional scenes, all the while using an incredible range of facial expressions. She's a fiery, strong woman and your eyes are drawn to her. As for Hawke, he is just as worthy, but I can't imagine him getting the nod over more high profile leading roles. Another strong possibility is Best Adapted Screenplay, as this is primarily a writing showcase. As such, I don't really see a directing nomination in the works. Finally, the big question is whether the film will make it into the Best Picture lineup. To that I would say a tentative yes, but it will need fervent support and advocacy when the time comes.


  1. Very cool post. I agree that it was very funny in certain scenes. Yes the movie does delve into some dark moments between the two but even when they argued I could still see that they loved eachother very much. I hope this gets more Oscar love then just screenplay but will have to wait and see. As long as no Hobbits are being nominated this year, right.

  2. Making a movie with nothing more than smart dialogue and fine performances is a dying art, but Linklater, Hawke and Delpy remind us that it's a skill worth saving.

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