Review: (Love Hurts and So Does) Before Midnight

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If you liked the cycle of attraction, repulsion and desperate rekindling that Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan began with 1995’s Before Sunrise, you’ll likely appreciate Before Midnight, the third film in the series written and produced by Linklater and starring cowriters Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. It’s painful and beautiful and true, and like many relationships, you’ll ask yourself: “WHY AM I STILL IN THIS?”

Now a famous novelist, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) divorced his family and his American homeland to be with Celine (Julie Delpy) in Paris. Celine found success in public policy. They have twin girls. She’s “the general,” he takes them to play. They have roles, ones they chose and yet still resent. They want everything both ways. Compromise is an exotic bird to them. These two love each other, but don’t appear to like life. Guests at a Greek author’s home for the summer, they’re ending a brilliant holiday and yet only function when theorizing or arguing (the same method, give or take hyperbolic escalations).

Following in line with relationship dramas like Scenes from a Marriage or Blue Valentine, Before Midnight depicts a “system” (the film’s code word for "relationship") that’s endured little refinement despite nearly a decade of shared success with kids and careers. Each fight (though you could say this is all one fight) reveals the prisons into which each character puts him/herself. “My big fear is…” becomes a kind of refrain, sometimes stated, other times implied. The psychology is so acute, it’s beyond textbook. This is the film’s strongest asset and the thing that made me want to run screaming from the theater. How could they be this far into their (common law) marriage and still on the verge of collapse? I asked a similar question of Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd in This is 40, yet now feel relieved those two were pandering for our sympathies because Delpy and Hawkes surely don't.

It'd be churlish to describe my ire without acknowledging how poignant and painfully accurate Before Midnight is, how the educated post-romantics in it are loving and hating and forgetting everything and starting all over again. The film's flow is relentless and its integrity prevents you from blaming it for your reactions, particularly when the gender you're likely to identify with will be the one with whom you'll find most fault; it's a gross and lifelike inevitability and, I'm sure, a source of pride for the writers. For as stir crazy as it made me, it’s near impossible to imagine a relationship scenario that feels more genuine.

By the end you’ll fear being alone with them as much as they fear being alone with each other, but what else is truer or more damning?

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