Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunite for a third film, after ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset’, in Richard Linklater’s occasional series about occasional lovers Jesse and Celine. Only now, the pair’s love is not so on-and-off: the American writer and French environmentalist have been a couple since we last saw them in Paris almost a decade ago. Kids are involved (best keep the plot vague; part of the fun is the discovery) and they’re on holiday in Greece at the villa of a convivial elderly writer (played, intriguingly, by legendary cinematographer Walter Lassally).
While the talk of the previous films was propelled by the thrill of a first meeting or of a reunion after many years, what’s there to chat about so incessantly when you’ve been together for nine years, however happy or disgruntled you are? A more muted study in settled silence would have been interesting, but that’s not this film or these characters.
And that’s a problem: Jesse and Celine chat non-stop on a long car journey and while walking to a kids-free night in a hotel. It’s as if all the hang-ups and baggage of this time in their lives – a child from a former marriage; a repetitive sex life; an expanding bum – are tabled for discussion on one afternoon. As ever, the energy and sense of spontaneity is enlivening, but there’s a slight air of phoniness that doesn’t sit well with the in-the-now realism of Linklater’s project.
‘Before Midnight’ becomes more interesting in a final section in which Linklater throws some shade on his story. The day begins to feel less like just another and more like a threshold in their lives, so justifying the ramped-up emotions and endless jaw-jaw. Luckily, Hawke and Delpy remain as charming as ever, and their combined goofiness is more endearing than annoying. Winning, too, is the sense that this peculiar project, though imperfect, could grow old with its audience and its cast.