Director: Richard Linklater
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
I’ve sometimes not been sure if I’m watching a Richard Linklater film (Slacker) – or a parody of a Richard Linklater film (Suburbia); sometimes Linklater’s been kind enough to supply both the real/sincere effort and the navel-gazing parody all in one (Waking Life) but by completing his trilogy here with Before Midnight (following on from Before Sunrise and then Before Sunset) you’d have to assume that Linklater’s no longer sure where the line is.
I should perhaps point out that I loathed Before Sunrise – awful! It was people from my generation acting like parodies of people from my generation, granted there was a romantic tinge to it, but more often it was the cringe that came to mind. Linklater loves cartoon-philosophising so much that eventually led to Waking Life – an almost meta-prank (and almost an okay-watch too). But in (clearly) rushing (despite the passing of time) to close off an ultimately uninspiring storyline he has the characters Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy help to co-write walking about for much of Before Midnight, acting/sounding like the animated gang in Waking Life: all theory, no action. That Delphy and Hawke, when appearing as the animated versions of themselves in Waking Life seemed more realistic is about as telling (damning) as it gets for this deeply depressing film.
Where people might rush to defend this as some play-within-a-play/stage-drama inspired Gen-X version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I would say I just don’t have time for a poor-man’s Edward Albee raised in the too-self-aware-so-as-to-lose-complete-focus world that is Linklater-thinking-he’s-Douglas-Coupland/hoping-he’s-on-point.
The theme here has merit – across nearly 20 years we’ve seen a romantic couple have their hopes dashed, and then get a second chance and now, nearly a decade on from the rather lovely (actually wonderful) Before Sunset – the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy? – we have Delphy’s Celine and Hawke’s Jesse married with twins. Except Jesse – now a successful, smug writer (still dressing and acting like a teenager) – wants to spend time with his son from his former marriage. Celine wants to push for her career and doesn’t want to relocate.
So we are thrust into excruciatingly long scenes where these two are forced to examine the idea that they’re in love with the idea of being in love and they do this through speaking Linklater’s thoughts incessantly at one another, speaking for the director rather than ever for the characters, espousing all that he clearly wants to tell the world and would in another forum if he could, as well as relying on clichés about (groan) the battle of the sexes: men are obsessed with sex and don’t want to grow up and end up resenting the women that try so hard to change them. Women of course do all that work changing their so-useless men and then want to finally put themselves first and live with the guilt and/or stress of balancing work, family and the child that never quite ever grows up.
You will yawn throughout this film because it is (so) tedious. You should feel insulted by the clichés that mount. And though there are moments – like the brutal-but-finally-getting-somewhere penultimate hotel scene – where this could have worked (better?) as a stage play it’s still an indulgent load of twaddle. And yet for all the indulgence it’s seemingly half-formed at best, tossed out into the world to survive as some clever twist on the happy ending. Getting over the line because vacuous audiences will be able to say “at least I can say I followed it through”. Be nice if Linklater could have (actually) done the same.
It’s lazy and shitty and the characters aren’t (actually) believably wretched they’re just annoying and ludicrously self-obsessed.
And I think back to Before Sunset – a lovely film, because it did that one great aspect of writing so well: it was all about the show-don’t-tell principle. Here we’re told far too much and consequently shown next to nothing. And then shown it again. And again. For nearly two fucking hours. Boo!