Vacationing amid the summer splendor of Greece, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are surrounded by echoes of the past, none louder than their own history.
In "Before Sunrise" 18 years ago, they were carefree strangers in their 20s who met aboard a train in Europe and spent a night in Vienna, walking, talking, coupling and vowing to reunite again in six months. In 2004, they reconnected in "Before Sunset," as he was on a publicity tour for the successful novel inspired by their enchanting encounter.
3.5 stars = Very Good
Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.
R for sexual content/nudity and language.
Now, in "Before Midnight," it's the present day, and Jesse and Celine are not only together but parents of 7-year-old twin girls and concluding a glorious vacation in Greece with Jesse's almost 14-year-old son, Henry.
As the movie opens, Henry is about to board a plane home to the States and trying to dissuade his divorced dad from visiting in October for his piano recital. "It's just because Mom hates you so much," the teen says, so she'll be really stressed and that will make life even more difficult for the boy.
Little chance of living happily ever after when Henry is in Chicago, Jesse is guilt-ridden in Paris, and environmentalist Celine is about to take a new job in her native France and considers Jesse's ex-wife a drunk and psychologically abusive.
"Before Midnight," workshopped and written once more by the leads and director Richard Linklater in a way that seems as if we're eavesdropping on a real couple, addresses the sorts of questions 40-somethings face.
Money doesn't loom large for this couple as with most, but they thrash out questions about sacrifice, parenting, division of labor, fidelity, anger, spontaneity, longevity and love.
"I barely have time to think," she blurts out, while he cannot let go of what living overseas means for his relationship with his teenage boy. A romantic evening suddenly turns into one asking the other, "If we didn't have the girls and all our crap, would we still be together?"
Holes in their history are filled in as they talk sweetly or trade accusations -- she moved to New York for two years to be with Jesse, the couple later relocated to Paris for the birth of their twins, expected to be complicated.
You don't need to have seen the previous two movies to appreciate or understand "Before Midnight," but you will have a richer experience if you have. You likely will find yourself rooting for everyone to just calm down, mellow out with some more wine and realize fate brought this couple together for a reason.
Once again, the clock is ticking, but midnight signifies the end of one day (or beginning of the next), a time of literal and marital darkness and the moment when the magic ends for Cinderella.
Until, of course, she's reunited with the prince, who here still looks boyish with half of his shirttail hanging out of his jeans, his shaggy hair falling forward and his desire to charm and chat intact.