“Where did you think your life would be at this point, Missy?” Ethan Hawke flippantly asks Julie Delpy early on in the third installment of Richard Linklaters’ ongoing saga of Jesse and Celine, the star-crossed lovers we first met back in 1995’s “Before Sunrise.”
From Delpy’s remarks throughout “Before Midnight,” we can guess she didn’t expect that in her early 40s she’d be married to somebody she calls an “American teenager,” and that she’d be the mother of his curly-haired, blond, twin seven-year-old girls (Charlotte and Jennifer Pryor).
But since they came together that afternoon they spent together in Paris, in 2004’s “Before Sunset,” that’s what happened, and now, nine years later, on vacation in Greece, they come to another crossroad in their relationship.
Hawke’s successful novelist Jesse is aching to spend more time with his teenage son (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) who lives with his mother in Chicago, but the French Delpy’s politically minded Céline doesn’t want to leave France because of a government job offer.
Linklater (“Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Bernie”) effectively gets us back into the tone and the talkiness of the couple’s world with a long unbroken shot (taken from a camera mounted on the hood of their automobile) of the two chatting while driving through the Greek hillsides while their children sleep in the back seat.
We then meet a group of locals including Walter Lassally, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Athina Rachel Tsangari, and Panos Koronis, who join the leads for a lively dinner party, in which life and love is discussed with much wit and warmth.
This is a fine appetizer, but the real entree is the last two-thirds of the movie, which concern Delpy and Hawke alone. They have a long walk and talk through Grecian ruins (another unbroken shot).
Then it’s on to an evening at Westin Resort Hotel at Costa Navarino which starts off romantically, but then becomes an edgy argument that could end their marriage.
Their heated hotel room feud put me through the emotional ringer, as it probably will anybody who has enjoyed and/or suffered through a long-term relationship.
Being the same age as the actors are (Hawke is 42; Delpy, 43), I can relate to them, as I’ve experienced almost identical arguments.
In both career-best performances, Hawke and Delpy alternate between being funny, deeply frustrated, and heartbroken, never taking an inauthentic step (the fact that Delpy spends a good chunk of their hotel room spat topless is somehow organically present).
Along with Linklater, Hawke and Delpy co-wrote the screenplay, so you often feel the overlap of real life in their exchanges, and that makes the material sting and resonate greatly.
Some folks may be turned off by how talky it is – and it’s all talk; a series of constant conversations – but fans of these films are going to be elated to spend more time with these two, who, I believe, are in the running for greatest screen couple ever.
In a world full of major studio sequels and reboots, it’s a beautiful treat that every nine years we can catch up with Jesse and Céline in an intelligent indie shot at another picturesque location.
Because “Before Midnight” is on excellent par with the first two films, that prospect is even more appealing.
Delpy recently said in an interview that they plan on making these films into their 60s, “then we’ll be like the couple in ‘Amore.’ ”
Amen to growing old with these characters.