Before Midnight, the newest installment in the Before Sunrise/Sunset films starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, is everything fans have been waiting for—a sweet, funny, romantic, talky movie. Continuing the tradition of the previous films, Before Midnight only chronicles one day in this couple’s life. But the film manages to reinvent the series while keeping the story faithful to the structure of the two films that preceded it.

Almost twenty years ago, in 1995, Richard Linklater co-wrote and directed Before Sunrise, about a young man, Jesse (Hawke), and a young woman, Celine (Delpy), who meet on a train while traveling Europe and fall in love. They spend one night together and, in the morning, they are forced to part, perhaps never to meet again. Nine years later, in 2004, Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater co-wrote and released the sequel, aptly titled Before Sunset, in which Celine and Jesse reunite in Paris, where Celine lives and Jesse is visiting while on his book tour.

Over the past twenty years, Celine and Jesse have become a classic pair of star-crossed lovers, and in Before Midnight they are back in a way audiences have never seen before. Both Delpy and Hawke give great performances, balancing each other out in every scene beautifully. The actors have the ability to transition a scene from humorous to heartbreaking, and their real-life friendship translates perfectly onscreen.

Celine and Jesse are not two single adults traveling in alone, but rather in a committed relationship with children. They are part-time parents to Jesse’s young teenage son from his first marriage and full-time parents to their twin daughters. The family is traveling in Greece, staying with friends at a beautiful villa and enjoying a relaxing vacation from their Parisian lives.

Before Midnight shakes up the formula of the previous films with the very nature of the narrative: Jesse and Celine begin the film as a couple. No more chance meetings, no more chasing – the two have already fallen in love. Before Midnight is a film about how a couple stays in love, and questions whether or not that is a possibility. This distancing creates a whole new dynamic for the actors, and opens up their characters to become more complex and conflicted. Celine and Jesse do not need to spend the day getting to know each other or catching up. Instead, they spend the day talking about their family. Their conversation is less philosophical and more mundane and playful. Celine and Jesse are recreated as characters, and yet they are comfortingly similar to their younger selves. Celine is still a dramatic, slightly crazy French woman, and Jesse is still a goofy, more traditional American.

The third installment also separates itself from the past two films by featuring prominent characters that surround the couple: the old writer who owns the villa, their daughters and their friends. Watching how they interact with those around them adds a whole new brand of humor to the film for the simple reason that there are more people on screen to play with. Of course, Before Midnight is best when Delpy and Hawke are alone together.

In the final act of the film, Celine and Jesse go away for a night in a local hotel. What begins as a romantic evening for two quickly disintegrates into an all-out brawl. The scene comprises the entire last third of the film and feels, at times, almost too long. The argument is a tennis match that will never have a winner, and the tension builds and builds until the entire audience is on edge. And still the fight goes on.

The simplicity of the settings, scenes and characters makes the movie all the more real and relatable. The stakes are raised because the characters and conflicts are on a small, intimate scale. Before Midnight is not a film about alien robots or fast cars or superheroes – it’s about people. The long scenes allow for the characters to co-exist with the audience, and the audience has no choice but to be consumed by what is happening onscreen. That is the genius about a movie like Before Midnight.

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