Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Before Midnight (2013)

This is an experiment. Here at A Persistent Vision, I’ve striven to review each film as a self-contained entity, in relation to its genre, and occasionally in the context of an oeuvre. But today, I’m going to view the Richard Linklater series in reverse order, beginning with Before Midnight, and review each film on its own. It’s certainly a way to approach a series of films, and hopefully something different and yet coherent.

In case you’re wondering, all I know about the Before/After series is it’s a ‘romantic comedy’ trilogy where, in very long takes in between their ambulatory tours of a local/exotic neighbourhood two main characters talk the pants off each other (metaphorically or otherwise).

With Before Midnight, we drop in on the two characters 9 years after the last film. On a road trip to some Greek villa to visit literary friends, Jesse and Celine start talking and never shut up till the end of the film. You get the sense that it’s been a good 9 years of cohabitation; they’ve learnt to deal with each others’ issues while growing together as a couple. It’s only through the charm and familiarity of these characters that an audience can bear through 20 minutes of dialogue as exposition and self-indulgent fanservice.

Not till the second act does the film get interesting when you realise that Jesse and Celine are in the process of talking their way out of their long and happy cohabitation. Increasingly, long-standing bugbears of their relationship crop up first as jokes, fade away into the background banter, then are repeated as angry recriminations in the third act. It’s interesting because the romantic, romanticising, and self-romanticising banter begins to take on a passive-aggressive edge – and you wonder just how far they’ll take it. Then it gets boring again because the romantic status quo is reasserted.

It’s as though you’ve been watching a film concept that really should be scripted and directed by say Todd Solondz, who really knows how to make dialogue count and yet not sound over-written – and more importantly, how to bring out the subconscious passive-aggressive meanness from his characters. But you got stuck with Richard Linklater, making a third film in a romantic comedy where everyone talks – too cleverly.

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