If you haven’t yet seen the critically acclaimed romantic drama “Before Midnight” consider some binge watching of the “Befores” that came before. “Before Midnight” is only the latest creative collaboration by director Richard Linklater and the movie’s stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. All three had a hand in writing these candid films.
I did, and I have to say it was quite something to see it all of a piece.
Begin, of course, with Celine (Delpy) and Jesse’s (Hawke) first encounter in 1995’s “Before Sunrise.” They are strangers on a train when circumstance throws them together. We get to know them as they get to know each other during a few stolen hours of romance meandering the streets and clubs of Vienna. The camera bathes them in the city’s beauty, the light changing as day becomes night and finally turning into wispy pink and yellow morning light as their parting becomes increasingly hard to bear.
While the afterglow of Vienna still lingers, queue up the DVD for 2004’s “Before Sunset,” where you can join the lost loves nine years later in Paris. Jesse’s novel on their unfinished romance has been published and he’s come to Paris for a signing. Circumstances have changed dramatically. He’s married and has a young son he adores. Celine has spent the intervening years moving through a series of relationships, struggling to find herself without Jesse. She’s casting about on the career front too. The tone has deepened, though not darkened. Their lives have different wrinkles and the implications for whatever they do or don't have more problematic. But the teasing and flirting still dominate, as does the promise of something more.
With that promise hanging in the air, head to the theater for “Before Midnight” to see how twin daughters and commitment have changed Celine and Jesse in the years since Paris. This relationship is already bruised by the time we reconnect on a very long -- and fractious -- car ride from the airport where Jesse's son Hank is headed back to the States where he lives with his mom. Still the ebb and flow between Celine and Jesse, even as they discuss the terrible "ex," all feels familiar. So many ideas and emotions from the earlier films are embedded in their conversation. It becomes the ideal set-up for the eviscerating fight that will come before midnight -- the film’s defining moment.
Although “Before Midnight” stands on its own, seriously consider a before-“Before” binge of "Sunrise" and "Sunset" -- one of the few times you can indulge in something completely and walk away guilt-free.