Careful, some spoilers ahead…
In Act two of Richard Linklater’s trilogy of films about Gen X couple Jesse and Celine (played fantastically by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) the story opens with Jesse signing copies of a book that he has written about their first encounter in a small bookshop in Paris, France. The audience is all anxiously wondering if the young couple was ever able to meet on the day they had designated to re-kindle their romance in the first film Before Sunrise (reviewed by me here). And then, suddenly, Celine is there at the bookshop and our couple is reunited.
They begin walking and talking. They only have a small sliver of time to visit together before Jesse is supposed to head to the airport for his plane back to the United States. But as the time passes, they keep extending the visit until it becomes pretty obvious that Jesse isn’t going anywhere. They talk about everything. What had happened? Why had their meeting failed? What had been accomplished? Lots and lots to catch up on…
They are at a great point in their lives – early thirties. Jesse has found success writing – doing what he loves. He finds himself now married with a son who he just adores. Celine, simply beautiful, is working as an environmentalist, passionate, driven and with a remote photojournalist boyfriend. As they get re-acquainted, their chemistry quickly returns; they find themselves falling in love all over again and full of regrets that their meeting plan hadn’t worked out.
In Before Sunset, anything is possible. Now the pair has means, control, and some maturity. They can do whatever they want – but of course, their actions will have consequences. Jesse is a hopeless romantic. He indulges in whininess about his unfulfilling marriage. He allows that to justify his hook up with Celine. Celine, in turn, is still her neurotic self – over-analyzing everything. At one point in the car, she tries to pull away and escape from Jesse. But she allows herself to be lured back to him; even though she knows what follows will be difficult in many ways, given their completely separate lives.
This was my least favorite of the series, although I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m not sure why. I guess it wasn’t as “feel good” as the first movie and not as acutely real and compelling as the last Before Midnight. I think that perhaps it exposed how selfish we humans can be in seeking self-gratification, which is painful to admit sometimes. The film was nominated for an Oscar (among other awards) for best screenplay, which the actors actually helped to write. But I wasn’t as keen on the writing in this movie as I was on the other two in the series.
Incidentally, in case you didn’t already know this, the two characters are based on a real life experience that Linklater had in his younger years. You can read more about it here in this article in Slate. However, not to be a downer, but the real life heroine tragically died in a motorcycle accident….