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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Before Midnight is a smart, talky, insightful dramedy that extends the love story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the couple who first met and fell in love in Before Sunrise and got reacquainted in Before Sunset. This latest installment is an unflinching look at the complications of a relationship between two very complicated people -- including how to negotiate gender roles when children arrive -- and as such, may not be especially relatable for teens, though their parents will probably find much that rings true. Expect some social drinking and cigarette smoking, swearing (including "f--k" and "c--t"), and a scene in which a woman's breasts are displayed for an extended period of time.
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What's the story?
Eighteen years after American writer Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French environmentalist/feminist Celine (Julie Delpy) first met cute on a train, they're together, still holding each other in thrall but struggling with the burdens of careers, children, and the shifting dynamics of a long-term relationship. They're vacationing in Greece, and Jesse's 13-year-old son from his first marriage, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), has just boarded a plane back to America, where Jesse's still-bitter ex-wife awaits. Jesse's worried that he's missing out on Hank's formative high school years, and Celine worries whether she's being asked, albeit circuitously, to give up her dream job and move to Chicago so they can be closer to Hank. With this and many other worries looming, and one night alone at a hotel arranged by their friends, Jesse and Celine do what they do best: walk, talk, argue, laugh, and unpack what being together, and its costs, really is all about.
Is it any good?
Watching a couple flirt, fight, negotiate, cajole, and challenge each other has never been as compelling as when the couple in question is Jesse and Celine. The two, played as always by the actors who originated, developed, and helped write the characters, don't disappoint in this authentic and thrilling check-in. It's been nine years since they left us hanging in Before Sunset, wondering whether they'd finally be together. Yes, of course. How could they not be? But is it for good? That's the question they explore -- among many others -- in this thoroughly satisfying chapter of their saga. What happens when true love isn't just consummated but domesticated? Does it lose its luster?
Director Richard Linklater is unafraid to follow the real rhythms of conversation. Like the other "Before" movies, much of BEFORE MIDNIGHT has the audience listening in on Jesse and Celine, though there are more people around them now: children, friends, other couples. Instead of taking away from the film, though, this loosening up of Jesse and Celine's tight circle only adds more texture to the ongoing art that is their relationship. But Linklater knows well enough not to stray too far from Jesse and Celine, and when we get to have them to ourselves in the second half of the film, it's a joy, even if they look as if they're not having that much fun. It's a joy because we can relate to their battles; but even if they're familiar, they're never boring. It's a joy because Hawke and Delpy work so well together that it doesn't seem like work. And it's a joy because, as it may be for two people evaluating their connection, it's good to be reminded why we fell in love with Jesse and Celine in the first place.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Before Midnight is a worthy third chapter to Jesse and Celine's love story. What makes these characters so compelling? How are they different from the typical leads in most studio romantic comedies?
What is the movie saying about relationships, parenthood, and careers and how all three fit in a person's life?
What can you learn from both Jesse and Celine? How is their relationship admirable and/or maddening?
Celine talks about how men and women face different hurdles when it comes to juggling work and parenting -- do you agree?
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