The first two films in the “Before” series: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset served as a kind of fantasy romance for intellectuals. They were less about sexuality than about intellectually stimulating conversation. They were about the possibility of two people from vastly different worlds finding a connection together, however brief. That is exactly what is lost in the latest installment, Before Midnight.
In this films the characters Celine and Jesse are a couple, they have been living together since the last film (9 years). Because of their familiarity their life has become about survival and caring for their twin daughters. They barely speak to each other let alone have valuable and enriching engagement.
In the first two films Celine was a feminist hero of sorts. Not ashamed to be beautiful but not focused primarily on her appearance she presented herself with a strong sense of confidence and self-effacing humor. In the recent film she has become a woman overwhelmed and un-accepting of her self created position in life. She’s miserable in her job, overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood and most disappointing, she’s unhappy with her body. Julie Delpy has rounded out a bit, as most women in their 40’s do, but she is still strikingly beautiful and sexy. It would’ve been so encouraging and fun to see an actress at this age who loves her body and finds strength in her comfort with it. Instead she refers to herself as “a fat, disgusting, middle-aged woman.” Another issue that I have with the character of Celine is that she presents herself as a feminist but does a lengthy scene topless. She also mocks a “bimbo” to try to turn on her boyfriend multiple times. Add her constant whining and nagging and there is no magic left in her character.
The film-makers have succeeded at making a realistic portrayal of many relationships at this age, but I always viewed this film franchise as the fantasy of what it could be. If I want to see a realistic portrayal of a 40 something relationship I can look in the mirror or anywhere around me.
In this installment the focus turns from romance to sex. It deals with the characters frustrations sexually and has a foreshortened sex scene. Unfortunately what was meant to be a frank portrayal of sex cheapens the uniqueness in their relationship. Unlike the success of the lengthy nude scene which begins Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the lengthy nude scene in Midnight feels embarrassing and awkward.
I was weary of the story when I learned that in this film the couple would be together, fearing that it would ruin the unique strength of their momentary togetherness and unfortunately I was right. Don’t get me wrong; the critics are right. It’s a great film. It just isn’t a great last piece to the Jesse & Celine love story.