There are romance movies that make you want to cuddle up to your significant other because they make you just love everything about love. Before Midnight is not one of those movies and not by a long shot. It’s more like the knight in shining armor of cinema, galloping in to rescue the world from unrealistic and sappy romantic movies, uncaring of how many The Notebook fans it destroys in its path. Let me explain through the use of some spoilers!
The movie goes something like this: a man and a woman who have been together for years and have children together navigate the complexities of a relationship that has lost its magic; the novelty of being young, carefree, and in love has worn off, as it tends to, and they both know it. It offers a realistic view of what happens to the relationship after the movie screen fades to black and the credits roll: it doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies like in a rom-com but it never promises to.
Before Midnight is the third installment in the telling of Jesse’s and Celine’s love affair-turned-relationship. Two films ago, we saw the classic love story where Boy met Girl, Boy fell in love with Girl and Girl fell in love with Boy. One film ago, Boy and Girl spent a romantic day in Paris after losing touch for some years. This film picks up where the last one left off, with Boy and Girl some years later in –what looks like– a content relationship.
The thing about “content” is that it’s boring. It’s the second most boring emotion to feel (next to actual boredom) and it’s the definite most boring emotion to watch other people feel. Characters who are just content feel passive and indifferent to everything which causes the movie to experience these weird stretches of stale silence; they’re super similar to real life awkward silences and they kind of make you want to be that annoying person that says “Awwwkwaaard”. (*Kind of* because you should never actually *be* that person.) Here’s an example of what I mean: Jesse and Celine go on what feels like a never-ending drive while vacationing in Greece. Instead of doing something interesting like arguing over the proper pronunciation of “tzatztiki,” they just continue along this empty road having really unexciting conversation in their jeep that has “We’re sensible parents and we manage our finances responsibly!” written all over it. That’s fine to do in real life, I guess, but if I want to watch people do normal things, I could just go outside and walk around. Or I could watch an episode of Ke$ha’s docu-series because at least that includes neon headdresses.
This movie is the kind that takes a long time to get going, making you worry and check your watch every so often to see how much time is left for the plot to unfold and then get resolved. If you weren’t already a fan of the series and stumbled upon this movie on Netflix, you might feel like you want to shut it off after you watch the characters make salad for seven minutes. But I urge you not to because the movie redeems itself and gives you all the action you were asking for the entire time.
The last part of Before Midnight is completely hijacked by this insane fight that erupts. And, really, I do mean erupts because it comes out of nowhere and once it starts you will be totally convinced that you’ve started watching a new movie; they lose their cultured manners and start to curse and slam doors. It was like I was watching an indie episode of The Sopranos!
The fight starts because Celine is on the phone with Jesse’s son and hangs up before Jesse gets to say hi or bye or who knows what wanted to say? Maybe he was going to ask his son if he would be cool with receiving a mail-order bride from his dad and now he’ll never know if it was okay or not! So, like, Jesse is totally right for being angry. Somewhere along the way the fight becomes about how Celine totally knows about the time Jesse was probably cheating on her while she was walking around at night with their babies and almost getting mugged. And then it just continues to spiral from there.
But you shouldn’t worry about missing any parts of the fight because, remember, this is a near exact duplication of a real day in the life of a real couple! If you guessed that you get to witness the entire argument no matter how much you silently protest in your head then you were correct. Good job! I was so conflicted about whose side I was supposed to choose or if I was even meant to choose a side. It was sort of like when you were sleeping over a friend’s house as a kid and your friend’s parents completely did not care that their kid was having a sleepover and got into a fight anyway. You just kind of sit there and watch it unfold while wanting it to end but being kind of thankful that you don’t have to re-paint your friend’s nails for the fourth time. I was really glad that someone finally felt some emotion but it felt like overcompensation for all of that contentment that everyone was feeling earlier.
In the end, though, I really want to give a sincere round of applause to while simultaneously giving judgmental looks to everyone who had a hand in the amount of realism that this movie contained. It made half of the movie pretty forgettable but helped the other half make a statement about how relationships that don’t sometimes suck don’t exist but that it’s important to stick it out for all of the times that happen to not suck. And if you ruin potential sex in a beautiful Greek hotel room to argue about who should be responsible for packing your kids’ vacation suitcases, c’est la vie.