As the award nominations and accolades continue to pour in for BEFORE MIDNIGHT, the third and final chapter in Céline and Jesse's analytical romance saga affectionately titled the Before series, I can't help but think about how completely underwhelming the film is.
Don't get me wrong--I love watching Ethan Hawke (Jesse) and Julie Delpy (Céline) talk incessantly about the state of their relationship and where they are as adults. It's the main draw for the story. It's relatable, it's genuine, it's accessible. I get it. But for a franchise built on open and authentic dialogue, I found that this third film left us with an unoriginal and contrived ending. Even thinking about it now, I can't for the life of me figure out the reason for the flurry of aggravation both characters have for each other. It reminded me of a bad Ally McBeal episode at times. Céline is mad at Jesse because, well, we don't really know why exactly. She thinks he wants to have an imaginary affair with someone--and puts words into his mouth (and maybe thoughts into his head) about how he doesn't love her anymore. Jesse, being the guy that he is (and most normal human men would probably agree), think she's acting ridiculous and that he has not given her a reason to go off on him like this.
Much of the film fixates on this unprovoked madness as Céline further descends down her neurotic spiral. But why all the anger and insecurity all at once? I can see if there was some buildup to this emotion, or some sort of pretense. That I would understand, because that becomes normal as you reach a certain plateau in many relationships. But to leave off on a somewhat hopeful note in the last film--Before Sunset (2004)--and bring these characters to this sour, almost spiteful place comes off abrupt and forced. The characters seem less natural and more distant--even from the audience.
But there are some good moments in the film, like when Céline and Jesse playfully tease each other about the differences between male and female attraction while drinking wine with their friends. Céline goes into this mock *dumb gorgeous blonde* act to prove a point, which Jesse uncontrollably falls for. The two characters are at their best when they are mildly yet calculatingly taking jabs at each other. They may have smirks on their faces but there is genuine hurt (and maybe even fear) behind these mutual digs.
Perhaps Céline's real problem is that after the hours and hours and hours she spent simply talking to someone who would become her life partner, she never really considered she and Jesse as a unit but rather two souls who happened to cross paths and have a great conversation. In BEFORE MIDNIGHT they finally touch on the core of their psyches but in a very superficial way that serves only to surprise die-hard fans, not identify and/or fix any issues they may have as a couple.
While the film has certainly satisfied many audiences and critics across the board, I was left very cold and bewildered, questioning what I even saw. Of course Delpy and Hawke are delightful and captivating to watch, but we deserved a better finale than this.