Another Helping of Talk
Think of the erotic clockwork that drives most Hollywood love stories: the initial meeting, maybe a couple more, then into the slushy kiss, the quick cut to discarded stockings lying on a bedroom floor, the camera traveling up to survey either the postcoital hug or the midcoital yelp. Now try the Linklater version: the long talk on a train, more talk in the city, another helping of talk, then a wonderful scene in the cramped listening booth of a record store, where both parties are aching to embrace but can't quite dredge up the courage, contenting themselves with looking terribly serious and swallowing hard, like fliers trying to adjust to high altitude — which, in a sense, is what they are. Still no kiss.
…what Linklater has managed to do is to pull us back into that wordy, pleasantly confused moment of youth when people have the nerve — the pretension, maybe, but also the wit — to envisage their lives as a kind of literature, to imagine themselves sauntering gaily, or grimly, through one short story after another.
She was nearly 30 at the time, and I was 24 or 25. But in all the vital respects of human development, I was more like 13. Which is not to minimize my disappointment at her disappointment, but to partially explain it — there's no question I saw "Before Sunrise" at the right time; and though I'd like to think that an older me would have had the same reaction to it, a la Anthony Lane (all of 32 when he reviewed it), we'll never know.
If nothing can ever recapture the charms of the first movie, this latest installment is probably the best of the three, because Julie Delpy and Hawke have both matured into better actors and have an ease around each other that perfectly mirrors the ease of the characters (the same way that the actors’ coltishness and unfamiliarity with each other in "Before Sunrise" served that movie's needs). "Before Midnight" keeps the trilogy firmly based in talk — four big, defined blocks of it: an opening drive in a car, an outdoor dinner scene with friends, a long walk to a hotel, and then a fight in the hotel room.
Delpy is fantastic conveying Celine's nagging dissatisfaction, swinging easily between humor, tenderness and outrage, but I found Hawke's portrayal of Jesse even richer and more satisfying in the context of the earlier movies. In "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset," Jesse is in demand. His devil-may-care speech gets Celine off the train and into Vienna in the first movie. They may both be nervous, but it's his antics and charm that give them the opportunity to be. In the second movie, he's become a well-regarded novelist, and Celine tracks him down at a reading. He's married; she's doubtful of ever finding someone. In ways subtle and not, Jesse got to drive in the first two movies — and his blustery romantic shtick, even when it wore thin, got him through. The new movie makes fascinating use of that shtick. On the one hand, it's utilized much less frequently. Life's sediment has settled on Jesse, and it's hard to produce mushy verbal rhapsodies when you're busy helping your partner weigh the pros and cons of a job offer, or absorbing that same partner's uncomfortably pointed commentary about you in front of acquaintances. When he does resort to his old bag of tricks — most heartbreakingly and pathetically in the final scene — it's with the air of a creaky athlete trying to make it up and down the field. He gets more points for trying than for performing.
There's plenty to objectively dissect in these movies, but that's only after letting them wash over me. I've been roughly the same age as the characters in all three. I'm hoping they make another one every nine years, partly as a fan of movies and partly as someone who wants to keep these two as traveling partners.