Well, sometimes consensus emerges out of a completely valid reason. All those critics are right, and I'll be just one more voice in a praising chorus when I write that I loved Before Midnight and that it is the best movie I've seen so far this year (and that it has a great shot at retaining that position when the year's over). The question really isn't whether or not Before Midnight is any good. The real question is why exactly is this movie (and its predecessors Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) SO good?
There is a spark that comes out flashing when Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and director Richard Linklater decide to revisit the lives of Celine and Jesse. Trying to figure out what exactly made this the quintessential love story of the past few decades of cinema is both very easy and very difficult at the same time. It is contradictory, yet obvious. It's been said by thousands of people working in movies (actors, directors, writers, producers) that the thing that renders a story universal is making it specific. Considering the way this trio of movies has connected with so many cinephiles on such a deep level, it would be foolish to say that the story of Celine and Jesse is not universal. At the same time it would feel obvious, but it's worth pointing out, how much the lovers are specific characters.
Not only are they full of details, but they also feel like real humans. Romantic leads have (ever since the beginning of drama) oh so perfect and likable. Not these two. Jesse can be so cocky, always wanting to seem like the cool guy in control, always seemingly playing a part. Meanwhile, Celine is such a worried open book, so concerned with her personal and political views. So conscious about everything about herself and yet such an open and attacking book. I may have never heard their last names, but I know them way better than any other romantic leads. They might not be perfect, but that's exactly what makes us want to hang out with them even more. It's just like with your friends. Don't you prefer the complicated, imperfect ones to the insufferable people that seem to have everything together?
When we first meet them in the first film, Celine and Jesse feel in many ways like their stand-ins for young romantic lovers all around the world even if their respective characters were full of personality details and backstory. Had there never been a sequel to Before Sunrise, the movie would have remained an immensely charming love story. But Before Sunset did exist, and with it, we not only got to learn so much more about who Celine and Jesse are, but their whole story became bigger. It suddenly wasn't a story about a night of love. It was a story about something much deeper. It was a story about the aftermath of that night. It was a story about that second when you go from thinking about doing something to actually doing it and all that comes after that.
I am not even as old as these characters were when they met in Before Sunrise, so I feel a little silly saying that this movie gets what life is like. Yet, at the same time, there is such a gigantic amount of truth to what Jesse and Celine say and do that I can't help but identify. The line between actor and characters blurs and what is left is an immersion on life. A life so rich and realistic that there's no helping but identifying pieces of my own in what I'm seeing.
I don't want to go into too much details about Before Midnight, just because I wouldn't want to deprive anyone from having a completely fresh and personal viewing of the film itself (It is just too good for me to dare spoil it). I will, however, say that it takes the story of these two to a whole different level. After watching the film and putting the whole trilogy in perspective, it's apparent this was the only way the film could go to. Suddenly Jesse and Celine's story becomes even bigger. It becomes about examining a whole life of love. The romantic saga of a generation relies on a guy deciding to talk to a pretty girl on a train to Vienna. Sometimes the most epic aspect of life is a few hours of two people talking.