Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Ionian Sea is a Glass of Water

Before Midnight (2013)
directed by Richard Linklater
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
seen onscreen at the Manor Theatre

I really did think that this series would be great indefinitely. I told myself that photos like this didn't have anything to do with what I guess I suspected were principally Richard Linklater's movies about age, time, and relationships. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy shared writing credits on Before Sunset, but I imagined a collaboration in which the director tempered the worst impulses and personality traits of his two lead actors. I watched Before Sunset again not too long ago; it remains a wonderful movie.

Before Midnight is completely unbelievable as a film about people who have dated for ten years. Jesse and Celine are just as awkward as they were on the streets of Paris, and Hawke's sex talk is embarrassing. It made sense that their conversations in Before Sunset amounted to an unsteady, optimistic search for common ground between them. But their anecdotes here aren't the sorts of details one would have to reveal on an evening walk after a decade of cohabitation. There should be more shorthand in Before Midnight. Jesse and Celine should say less and mean more. Instead, they sound like two actors who believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that their most facile observations are, in fact, profound.

I don't have a problem with the two of them arguing, and their inability to find a resolution by the end of the night seemed perfectly appropriate. It isn't the structure of the movie that rings false, but the details. Did Jesse's ex-wife need to become an alcoholic to make Jesse sympathetic? Can Jesse and Celine discuss anything other than the most superficial readings of each other's personalities? Celine can't pursue her dreams because of her kids? Jesse can't be a great writer because he doesn't have time to himself?

My favorite scene was the first one. I don't have children, but Jesse's interactions with his son seemed just right. When Celine later reminds Jesse that he doesn't get to be a good father because he already missed most of his son's childhood, I thought back to the moment when the camera in the airport detaches from static shots of Jesse and his son and follows Jesse out to the car--drifting, just like dad. Linklater did a good job filling that bright coast with doom: the knives in the kitchen, the warnings to the kids to not go too far out, the barking dog, the texts about the plane.

After the movie, I wanted to talk about "The Weekend," the episode of Enlightened I like so much. Remember where Amy and Levi end up at the end of the show, with Amy in tears on a park bench while Levi reveals that he never really took her unhappiness to heart? That said something truthful about people in love and their abilities to inflict pain. Last night, on Veep, an adviser about to be fired said that jobs aren't depressing--life is depressing. Life is depressing. All of the perspective that age provides does nothing to fix old mistakes or bring back the people you lose. The shadow at the feet of Jesse and Celine in Before Sunset is how much they missed by being apart for ten years, but Before Midnight makes it seem like no one--not them, not us--missed anything at all.

That might be a point that a movie can make, but it can't be the point that this movie makes after the two movies that preceded it. Not without better writing, anyway.