She: "Baby, you are gonna miss that plane."
He: "I know."
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"Before Midnight"★ ★ ★ 1⁄2
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Other: A Sony Pictures Classics release. Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language. 109 minutes
Does that exchange fill you with a sense of wistfulness? Then you're probably a fan of Jesse and Celine, aka Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, whose insanely romantic final scene in "Before Sunset" nine years ago left moviegoers hanging -- deliciously, infuriatingly, agonizingly! -- and wondering if they'd ever know what came next for this appealing duo.
Well, we're finally getting the answer -- and it was worth the wait. "Before Midnight," the third movie in the Richard Linklater series that began with the 1995 "Before Sunrise," is not only as good as the first two, it's arguably better, tackling weightier, trickier issues -- as in, mature everyday love -- with wit, humor and breathtaking directness.
One of the unique things about this series is that the characters have aged in real time, meaning we've all aged with them. Not that most of us look as good in our 40s as Jesse and Celine. But still, hair is graying now just a bit, skin is wrinkling, middles softening.
More importantly, though, it's life that looks different for Jesse and Celine. If you recall, these two had one of the more romantic cinematic hookups in "Before Sunrise," meeting on a train rolling through picturesque European countryside and getting off together in Vienna for a night of walking, talking and falling in love.
They parted in the morning, with plans to meet six months later. That didn't work out, and so after nine years of longing -- and for him, an unhappy marriage and a son -- they rediscovered each other in "Before Sunset." More walking and talking -- this time in Paris -- led finally to that swoon-worthy last scene in Celine's apartment.
In "Before Midnight," the setting is still gorgeous -- it's a summer vacation in Greece. But Jesse and Celine are a mature couple with twin daughters. A feeling of absolute authenticity comes through at the very beginning, in a simple airport farewell between Jesse and his son, Henry (a wonderfully natural Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who's been visiting for the summer.
In the drive back to their vacation villa, Jesse and Celine converse in the relaxed, rambling way couples do. Yet we know trouble is ahead. A guilt-ridden Jesse worries about Henry and Celine worries that Jesse will force her to give up her job in Paris, where they live, and move to the States.
It seems that as life gets harder for this couple, the acting gets better. Watch Celine's face freeze when a fan asks her to sign a copy of Jesse's novel, a barely fictionalized account of their life together. And Hawke is extremely effective as a man who adores his partner but is increasingly frustrated with her.
No spoilers here. But let's just say there's certainly fodder for a fourth movie.