Old friends: Third in Hawke/Delpy series satisfies

By Richard Roeper

Early on in Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, we see an extended sequence more daring and in some ways just as thrilling as anything we're likely to experience in any 2013 movie about superhumans who can fly or futuristic galaxies filled with glorious and dangerous sights.    

The scene is shot in near-documentary fashion. Twin girls of about 7 are sleeping peacefully in the backseat of a car. Up front, their parents are driving through the countryside of Greece, discussing all the things that consume the conversations of 40-something couples.    

Ethan Hawke is Jesse, a writer who still dresses like a college student but looks every bit his age. Julie Delpy is Celine, effortlessly attractive, and that's a good thing because she's so harried she wouldn't have time to put in any real effort on her looks at this point.    

They talk about his teenage son from a previous union, who was just dropped off at the airport and is on his way back to Chicago. They commiserate about his impossible ex-wife. He hints about a possible move to the States so he can see his son more often. She deftly opens the door to a discussion of her new job opportunity, which would keep them firmly planted in Europe. They debate whether they should wake the girls for a promised tour of some ruins, or tell them the ruins "were closed" and they'll catch 'em on the way back.    

They keep driving and talking, driving and talking. And because that couple is Celine and Jesse, whom we met in Before Sunrise (1995) and then revisited in Before Sunset (2004), we hang on their every word, marveling at how wonderful and magical they are, how smart and sharp and real their exchanges.    

But we also see how irritating and self-involved and pretentious and petty they can be.    

When I say these two deserve each other, I mean it on every level.    

How could the Richard Linklater of the mid-1990s know that in two decades, he'd be just as capable of capturing the restlessness and sometimes hateful familiarity of a long-term relationship as well as he could capture the glorious promise of a chance potential romance? Or that the talented young actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke would be just as transcendent at portraying midlife crises as they were at conveying the beginning of love?    

If you have not seen the previous films in this thus-far trilogy (one hopes it will add chapters in the decades to come), I urge you to rent the first two. But even if you go into Before Midnight cold, you will be treated to a rich, smart, funny, sometimes acidic portrayal of a couple who can be spectacular when they're in tune— and toxic when they're at each other's throats.    

That's especially so in the last act of this film, when things are said that can be never be unsaid, and you wince at the pinpoint precision of the most hurtful insults.    

All scraggly hair, carefully sloppy attire and big ideas, Jesse is an author of some repute, on a sabbatical in Greece, nearing the end of an idyllic summer spent at the home of a renowned author who has become a mentor of sorts. Celine has put her career on hold to tend to their daughters. Along with that, she has spent the last few months helping the women in the kitchen, patiently waiting for Jesse to return from his daily walks during which he plots his next novel and thinks his big thoughts.     Celine's still gorgeous and vibrant and full of life, but she wears mom jeans, and she laments her expanding rear end— and Jesse's fading sexual interest in her. If not for their daughters, would they still even be together?    

This is one of the many, many, many topics of discussion when it's just Jesse and Celine going for a drive or a walk, or spending a night in a hotel they'll never forget, for reasons either wonderful or emotionally fatal or perhaps both. You may tire of them at times, as you would if you were in a room with them. But after they leave that room, you instantly find yourself anticipating the next time you'll drop in on their lives.  

I cannot wait to see where Jesse and Celine will be After Midnight, some 10 years from now.