Monday, 16 November 2015

"Before Midnight," Richard Linklater, Film Review

If you define a dream job as work so worthwhile and satisfying that you'd gladly do it whether you were paid or not, the two leads in Before Midnight have both landed dream jobs, in this third film of Linklater's trilogy covering a couple in roughly real time.  Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a globally loved author, travelling the world on book tours and writers' retreats.  Celine (Julie Delpy) is busy saving the planet.


Before Midnight explores the impact on these two characters of living in a world where a large majority of people will have children by their forties and where a large majority of people will have split from the first partners with whom they've had children.

Both characters complain about childrearing giving them no time to think.  And when they are given the chance to think, they realize they hate the compromises they've made in their lives.

It is a deliberately wordy film with no action to speak of other than the dialogue.  Parents don't get the chance to do anything.  Even talking is only possible at restricted times; for example, when their twin girls are asleep in the back of the car.

So we get a lot of car journeys, meals, walks and a lot of talking in front of pretty Greek scenery. 

Review continues below...

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Most parents accept that their jobs become a joyless mechanism to pay the mortgage, a dismal countdown to retirement.  Most parents accept that their friendships wither as their friends become similarly overtaken by children.  Most parents accept that their youthful sparky intellectual chat was a thinly veiled effort to look good in front of potential sexual partners, and that the need for that has now basically vanished now there are kids to look after.  Most parents will carve out some time from their work and family lives for hobbies and me-time and be content with that.  After all, the life-changes that come with children are well known and hardly a surprise to anyone, right?  And it's all more than compensated for by the joy that the children bring, right?

Well, not for these two.

Inevitably they find only dissatisfaction rather than answers.  The kids still take up all their time.  Demands of their own and ex-partners' children still ruin their careers.  The me-time each tries to eke out causes resentment in the other.

The rows they have aren't very convincing.  They're not hurtful enough to be realistic, but on the other hand, the blows that do land have to be soaked up with a smile so that the incessant and self-indulgent talking can continue.

Old wise characters and a young couple are rolled out to sum up their respective generations' take on it all.  It quickly all gets a bit grim.

By the end of the film the characters would have achieved just as much if they hadn't said a word.  I wished the twins would pipe up, 'What about us, you self-obsessed fucks?' before beating their parents to death with pointy toys.

Personal Score: 4/10

This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.

For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.

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