Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.
As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way. (Via Amazon)
Brian: One of the main reasons this blog started was to read and review the Michael L. Printz books. It all started with Looking for Alaska in the spring of 2012, and Shaunta and I went on either separately or together to read Fat Kid Rules the World, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Monster, and Where Things Come Back. These books have provided some of the most enjoyment reading I’ve had in the last two years, and yet I realized that in the last few months I hadn’t picked up a Printz book in awhile. For our November book of the month, I chose Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, which not only won the award in 2004, but also inspired the new film, starring Saoirse Ronan, and directed by Kevin MacDonald. Ultimately it was a great choice, because Rosoff’s novel reminded me why I fell in love with this Printz project in the first place.
Shaunta: I really enjoyed How I Live Now. Rosoff did a fantastic job of developing a character, Daisy, by using her first world problems (her father sends her to the English country side so he can start a new family in peace, she deals with his new marriage by developing anorexia, etc.) and then showing how she changes as her circumstances become decidedly not first world as the story goes on. The relationship between Daisy and Edmond–15 and 14 year old first cousins who fall in love and experiment with sex–takes on an almost Lord of the Flies meets Blue Lagoon quality that’s enchanting at the same time that it’s slightly disturbing.
Brian: The book is a quick read. At 190 fast moving pages, it just zips along, and I was able to finish it in two sittings. Rosoff’s writing style is super easy to follow, with simple prose that give the reader clear insight into the unthinkable horrors she discovers along her journey. Dystopian young adult novels can sometimes feel forced and unrealistic, but the world in How I Live Now is utterly believable from the first page on. I loved all in the characters in the family Daisy goes to live with; they all have their different quirks and qualities but never feel like types. I loved that Rosoff is willing to take the reader to very dark places and not feel like she has to sugarcoat anything. How I Live Now is one of the best YA reads I’ve had all year, and I’m grateful I finally got around to reading it!
Shaunta: I’m glad I read it to. I loved it so much, that when I watched the movie based on the book I was a little disappointed. Edmond is described in the beginning as about half a mile shorter than Daisy and slightly younger than her. He’s skinny and introverted and never described as a typical romantic hero. The actor who played him in the movie on the other hand is tall and muscular and gorgeous. The reason for it was obvious when an actor playing Isaac, who is Edmond’s twin in the book and plays 14 in the movie–meets Daisy at the airport. Ronan is too old to put her in a romantic relationship with an actual 14-year-old. Other parts of the movie were spot on. Daisy’s anorexia was transformed into what looked like OCD–and it worked. Piper was the little sweetheart that she was in the book. The third brother was transformed into a neighbor kid who could have just not been there at all in the beginning, and then was combined with another character in the middle. Most movies based on books fall a little short of the magic of the book–so I can’t fault this one for doing the same thing. It was good. Worth seeing, but don’t skip the book.
Brian: It was a treat upon finishing the book that I was able to check out the brand spanking new movie, still in theaters but available on demand. When I found out it was directed by Kevin MacDonald, I got really excited. I got to watch an early screening of his brilliant docudrama Touching the Void back in 2004, and I have followed his career closely ever since. I knew he would bring a sharp eye to this material, and he’s brilliant here both in capturing believable performances from all his young actors and showing restraint when other directors could have thrown too much visually at the viewer. Ronan is always good (the 2011 drama Hanna is a must-watch!), and here she gives one of her best performances as someone we don’t immediately connect with at first, but who develops and transforms over the course of the narrative. A few of the scenes took my breath away in their intensity—the reveal of a character in a body bag is too sad for words—while the end of the movie is perfectly calculated in both its utter despair and promise of hope. I was very impressed by the book and the movie How I Live Now, and hope that you all give them a shot!
Shaunta: I actually did connect with Ronan as Daisy right from the start. She played a pissed off, privileged teenager pretty spectacularly. The transformation from a girl filled with first world anxieties, to a girl actually living through and surviving war-torn, third-world realities, was the best part of the movie for me. Some of my favorite parts of the book–like Piper and her dog winning over the soldiers when she and Daisy are taken away from the family farm–are missing from the movie. Again–the movie was good, but the book was great. Don’t miss it!
Synopsis: Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a gift. Carrie could make things move by concentrating on them. A candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her power and her sin. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offered Carrie a chance to be normal and go to her senior prom. But another act–of ferocious cruelty–turned her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that her classmates would never forget. (Via Amazon)
Brian: My relationship with Carrie goes back a long time. I have no memory how I got a hold of it, but the first Stephen King book I ever read was Carrie, back when I was in the fifth grade. We had to read a book and give a book report to the class, and I reported on Carrie, much to the dismay of my teacher. I remember her pulling me aside and asking me if I could read more ‘appropriate’ books for the class. So what did I read next? Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I fell in love with King’s work at an early age, and it’s been a life-long love affair. Just last night, I received his newest book, Doctor Sleep, as a birthday present. I’ve read almost all of his novels in the last eighteen years, but it all started with Carrie.
Shaunta: I fell in love with Stephen King early, too. I was a freshman in high school when I read Carrie. I identified with the misfit girl who felt powerless, so some how manifested her own terrible powers. The King book that had the biggest impact on me was The Stand, which I received as a 13th birthday gift from my dad and read cover-to-cover twice in a row–but Carrie has always held a special place in my heart. Maybe because I read it during a time when I felt the least understood, the least heard, and the most different from other girls my age.
Brian: I read the book again in high school, and of course adore the 70’s film starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, and directed by Brian De Palma, but I haven’t thought about Carrie very much in the last decade or so. Therefore, it was a thrill this month to read the book again, and see the new remake which updates the story into a modern day setting. What I re-discovered about King’s novel is just how unusually he tells the story. While there are elements of a young adult novel in his debut, the story is not told in first-person from Carrie’s perspective. Only fifty to sixty percent of the book tells Carrie’s story at the time her tragic tale takes place; the other part of the book is told through newspaper clippings, magazine articles, letters, interviews, and more. There are scenes of testimony, where characters who witnessed the prom scene massacre get grilled on what they saw. There are detailed articles about the aftermath. There’s even an eerie letter that ends the novel that I had completely forgotten about. There’s a calmness and quiet intensity to the way King spins this tale that really resonates with the reader, and I think I love it more now than I did back when I was younger.
Shaunta: I love the 1970s Carrie film so much, that I went into this ‘reimagining’ with very low expectations. Chloe Grace Moretz is just too pretty to be Carrie. I didn’t think I’d be able to believe her as being totally disenfranchised. And I was right. I wasn’t. Moretz did a good job with parts of being Carrie. Her super-shyness was palpable. And I was drawn to the way she both despised and needed her mother. But overall–she didn’t work in the character for me. The one character who I thought did a great job was Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell. Sue was portrayed here as more sympathetic than she was in the original movie, and that worked for me. It highlighted the out-of-control aspect of the final scenes of the movie.
Brian: While I love Chloe Graze Moretz and Julianne Moore, I was definitely more excited to read the book again, than to see the new remake. Most of the horror remakes of the last decade have been poor at best, and offensively awful at worst. The remakes of Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street were so terrible, for example, that I needed a drink afterward just to calm me down. The new Carrie remake is not one of the worst horror remakes of late, but it’s not particularly good, either. The 70’s original is so iconic that for this new one to work, director Kimberly Peirce needed to give the material a wholly new take. Surprisingly, she deviates from the original only rarely. There are scenes in this remake that are almost word for word of the dialogue of the original movie, which was not a good choice. Moretz is fine in the lead role, but she’s way too pretty to pull off this character. One of the biggest weaknesses of the movie, shockingly enough, is Moore, who tries her best to make Margaret White her own, but she’s not offered enough screen time to create anything that’s anything more than a carbon copy of Laurie’s brilliant take on the character. It’s not all a waste, though. The one sequence of the film that works well is the prom night massacre, which is more subtle and effective than the split-screen madness in DePalma’s original. I also liked some of the actors, particularly Ansel Elgort as Tommy Ross (yum!), and Gabriella Wilde, as Sue Snell. But overall, this is a major missed opportunity, especially for a director like Peirce who I thought would do better with this rich material.
Shaunta: I actually really liked Julianne Moore as Carrie’s crazy mother. She was scary and did a good job playing deranged. She didn’t disappear into the role for me–so it was kind of like Carrie White’s mother was a deranged Julianne Moore–but it still worked for me. There’s a scene where she’s giving Sue Snell’s mother Sue’s prom dress at the dry cleaner shop where she works that was so intense for me. She wasn’t Piper Laurie though, and maybe no one else will do in that role. I think this is a movie that was so good in the original that there is no chance for a redo to ever stand up to it. The 1970s version of Carrie is still relevant, still amazing–there’s just no need for it to be reimagined.
Brian: In the end, I’m thrilled to have read Carrie again. It’s one of my childhood favorites—sorry, Mrs. Frodahl—and it still holds up after all these years. As for the movie adaptations (I didn’t even go into the wretched 2002 TV remake), stick with DePalma’s original, which is still by and far the best. Happy Halloween, everyone!
Synopsis: A life crisis causes a vapid and narcissistic socialite to head to San Francisco, where she tries to reconnect with her sister. (Via IMDB)
Brian’s Review: It’s well known that Woody Allen, one of my five favorite film directors, has been hit-or-miss during the last fifteen years, with only three true stand-outs—Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris (not to mention The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, a goofy guilty pleasure of mine). When he’s good, he’s great, but when he’s bad, he can be very bad. Movies like Anything Else and Scoop are downright embarrassing, with last year’s To Rome With Love adding another clunker to his resume. But what continues to appeal to me about Allen, besides the fact that he’s made five of my favorite movies ever (Annie Hall, Interiors, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors), is that in a nearly fifty year career in writing and directing films, he continues to crank out a movie a year, and continues to try new things. Blue Jasmine is a marvelous success, one of his best movies in a long, long time, due in no small part to a tour-de-force, Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett.
Allen is known for his New York films, but he broke out of that mold in 2005 with Match Point, and ever since he has surprised us with his choice of locale. In Blue Jasmine, Allen travels to San Francisco for the first time, and tells a story of a rich housewife named Jasmine (Blanchett) who loses everything when her husband (Alec Baldwin) goes to jail for fraud. She moves from New York to SF to live with her adopted sister (a radiant Sally Hawkins) and try to put her life back together. Unfortunately, she become increasingly unstable and struggles both with jobs and her social life. The movie is fresh in its writing and construction—Allen cuts back and forth in time to show where Jasmine has been and how she’s dealing with the mess of her life now—but the joy in Blue Jasmine is getting the opportunity to watch Blanchett sink her teeth into a role like she hasn’t done in years. She won the Oscar for The Aviator nine years ago, and this film gives her a solid shot at a second win. She’s Allen’s most original, daring creation since Penelope Cruz’s firecracker in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. She doesn’t get one or two meaty scenes sprinkled throughout the run-time. Blanchett gets the opportunity to soar with manic energy in scene after scene after scene, and she embraces the challenge.
Blue Jasmine isn’t all just Blanchett, however, but is chockfull of terrific supporting performances, from Hawkins and Baldwin, and also from a hilarious Bobby Cannavale and an earnest Peter Sarsgaard, not to mention two surprisingly deft performances from the comics Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. Allen employs his typical style by having many of the shots go on and on, allowing the actors to really live in the scene, and in the moment. It’s something I’ve always loved about his movies, and I’m thrilled all these years later that he’s never lost sight of his storytelling technique. Of course it doesn’t matter how long he lets the take run if we don’t care what’s happening on screen, but in Blue Jasmine, he’s crafted one of his more fascinating stories of recent years, the kind that makes you laugh all the way through, and then leaves you pondering what you found so damn funny at the very end. Blue Jasmine doesn’t have the magical fascination of Midnight in Paris, but it offers his best contemporary story since Match Point, and easily one of the best movies of the year.
Title: The Spectacular Now
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Release Date: August 2, 2013 (Limited)
Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.” (Via IMDB)
Brian: Ever since the rave reviews of The Spectacular Now came out of Sundance, I’ve been waiting with great anticipation. Shaunta and I’s favorite movie of last year was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and we’re always on the look-out for fresh, contemporary dramas about teenage life. We both loved The Way, Way Back, which came out in July, and we’re both hoping to check out Kings of Summer when it comes to video. But as much as I loved The Way, Way Back, I had even more invested interest in The Spectacular Now. I had a feeling this one was going to have the same kind of dramatic power and comedic timing of Perks. In the end, The Spectacular Now has a lot of great things going from it, most of all two towering, charismatic performances by its two leads, but there was enough to bug me in the movie to keep it from being one of the year’s best.
Shaunta: I was a teenager in the 1980s. That means that I compare movies like The Spectacular Now to movies like The Breakfast Club and Dirty Dancing. Maybe not fair, but it is what it is. I didn’t hate The Spectacular Now, I just wasn’t blown away by it. I always look forward to this kind of movie–the kind that had a major impact on my life when I was younger. There were some scenes in this movie that were really incredible. The director captured the awkwardness of first sex perfectly and then managed to transfer the awkwardness to the audience, in a good way. But overall, I wanted more.
Brian: Shailene Woodley is on a high right now, following her beautiful breakthrough performance in The Descendents, and with Divergent and The Fault In Our Stars coming in 2014. She’s marvelous in this movie as Amy, so natural to the point that you forget you’re watching someone acting. Miles Teller, in the lead role of Sutter, is equally good. I enjoyed him in the Footloose remake and some other movies, but this film provided his first meaty role, and he runs with it. I loved so many of the quieter scenes, especially a long walk the two share together along a beach, and their first sex scene, which has the perfect mix of desire and total awkwardness. Another thing The Spectacular Now does, which I don’t think I’ve ever noticed in a film before, is not give the main characters make-up of any kind. Every since scene you see all the blemishes, all the pores, of Woodley and Teller, and it gives the movie a tremendous realism.
Shaunta: I agree that showing the characters without a lot of make-up was brilliant. They were like regular kids, and that was refreshing and really cool. What this film lacked though, was consequences. It’s basically about a boy who makes these choices about living only in the now. That basically involves a LOT of drinking–even drinking in bars while in high school, tons of drunk driving. There are nearly no consequences. Even when there is one big one near the end that makes you gasp out loud, it’s not really one. The movie made his-and-her flasks for high school students seem like a cute idea and then didn’t go at all into what it’s really like to be that drunk all the time at 18. That bugged me. I enjoyed the movie, though, overall, even if I think that it could have been a little deeper.
Brian: What keeps The Spectacular Now from being one of my favorites of the year is a few misguided choices made toward the end of the movie, as well as a questionable character trait that never gets a proper pay-off. Shaunta and I were talking a lot after the movie about its lack of pay-offs. Sutter has a best friend who pops up for a couple scenes, but nothing really happens with him. The film devotes a lot of time to Sutter’s girlfriend, played by the luminous Brie Larson, but her story fizzles out toward the end and doesn’t seem to have earned all its running time. The most glaring one is that Sutter drinks. All the time. In almost every scene of the movie. Then he gets Amy to drink. All the time. He loses his mind in one scene toward the end, and has a crying scene with his mom (and even chills out in a bar where no one dares ask a boy who obviously looks underage for his ID), but his alcohol addiction never gets any real pay-off; he never gets into any real trouble over his actions. I thought this element of the movie was a missed opportunity. I also thought the film spent too much time in the storyline about his drunk of a father, which is something we’ve seen many times before. And I didn’t find the ending satisfying. It seemed too rush, not giving Sutter enough time to really come to terms with his inner demons and his desire to see Amy again. Overall, there’s a lot good here, though, and I do give it a recommendation, based on the first half, and the terrific performances from its two leads. I can’t wait to see what the screenwriters do for The Fault In Our Stars!
Synopsis: 14-year-old Duncan’s summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park. (Via IMDB)
Brian: I haven’t been so thoroughly entertained by a movie all year than I was with The Way, Way Back. This movie has the same amount of charm and wit and joy as Little Miss Sunshine, which also just so happened to star Toni Collette and Steve Carell. The Way, Way Back is the perfect blend of comedy and drama, with scenes that had me laughing harder than any comedy of 2013, as well as scenes that were tender and true, with a moment toward the end that brought a tear to my eye. The film was directed by the duo who co-wrote The Descendents, and they are just gifted in this kind of storytelling. It’s a simple story, not necessarily something original, but when it’s done this well, who cares? I was so happy to see teens in the audience at this movie, because I think they would love it. Avoid the latest superhero movie and try out a quirky comedy like this one once in awhile.
Shaunta: I ADORED this movie. I love it when I’m in a theater and everyone around me gets into the film. Everyone was laughing in all the right places during The Way, Way Back. It worked so well because it was so easy to relate to. Who doesn’t remember that feeling at 14 or 15 that you’re the only sane one surrounded by a bevy of insanity? The Way, Way Back is a movie about parents behaving badly, from the point of view of a smart kid who does the only thing he can think of to get out from under the mess. He gets a job at the local water park. From the opening scene, with Steve Carell being as awful as a mom’s boyfriend can be to Liam James’s character, I was sucked in. The film kept me right up to one of the best ending scenes I’ve seen in a while. In comparison to the destruction porn that’s typified this summer’s big releases, The Way, Way Back was something wonderfully different.
Brian: Of course Faxon and Rash were helped by having a first-rate cast that is just superb. Liam James is perfect as Duncan, the fourteen-year-old lead of the film whose only joy comes from working at the local water park. He brings to the character the right amount of angst in the beginning, then the right amount of confidence as his character progresses. I loved Steve Carell, playing against type as the hostile man dating Duncan’s mom, and Sam Rockwell continues to surprise and impress me, with his endearing portrait as Duncan’s older friend. Toni Collette is always great, and Allison Janney, doing a riff here on the character she played in Away We Go, had me laughing from her very first shot. I loved the Way, Way Back and can’t wait to see it again. There was never a lull in this movie, never a moment that dragged. It’s the kind of movie you can bring your whole family to, that everyone can get enjoyment out of. In these late days of summer, a movie like The Way, Way Back is a refreshing gem, with a bright cast, a wonderful story, and a perfect ending. Don’t miss this one. It’s one of my favorite films of 2013!
Shaunta: Just–go see this movie so that we can talk about it! Be prepared to hope that you never have parent fails as big as those you’ll see here. Also, be prepared to remember what it felt like to be fourteen. That’s what this movie does so perfectly. It captures that in between time and puts it on film for you. The cast is perfect. You’ll laugh, but then you’ll cry. You’ll see. You won’t be able to help it. Because the film ends the way fourteen does, with the sure knowledge that it doesn’t last forever–things get better. Seriously, I’m not going to spoil it, but I really loved the last ten or fifteen minutes of this movie.
Synopsis: United Nations employee Gerry Lane traverses the world in a race against time to stop the Zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, and threatening to destroy humanity itself. (Via IMDB)
Shaunta: I told Brian on our way to the theater that I’d be impressed if World War Z turned out to be a zombie movie where the scary was more psychological than gore. And it was. So, I am impressed. It was refreshing to watch a movie like this without it devolving into a gross-out fest. World War Z reminded me of I Am Legend in some ways. I never really feel that Brad Pitt disappears into a role. It’s always: Hey, look, it’s Brad Pitt. This movie wasn’t an exception. Only, it was: Hey, look, it’s Brad Pitt with weird Kurt Cobain hair. I guess it’s not all that surprising that a man with half-a-dozen kids is good at playing a dad, but he has that down. I also loved his chemistry with Mireille Enos, who played his wife (and is also the lead in one of my favorite shows, AMC’s The Killing.) There was a lot about this movie that made it stand out for me from similar films. Gerry Lane, the character Pitt plays, is a UN investigator, which lent a kind of intellectual edge to the movie that was appealing to me. Lots of times movies like this involve a lot of violence, but it was held at a minimum here, which for me made it scarier.
Brian: If you had told me a few weeks ago that I was going to like World War Z more than Man of Steel, I would have said you were crazy. While I’d been anticipating Man of Steel for months, World War Z looked a little stupid to me. Of course, the former turned out to be a disappointment, and the latter turned out to be a pleasant surprise. World War Z is a suspenseful, well-crafted thriller, with a strong performance by Brad Pitt in the lead. Unlike Man of Steel, which just assaults you with action in the last forty minutes, World War Z spreads the action out, which I enjoyed. The film is lean, with the crisis kicking in by minute five, and I loved how fast everything is wrapped up after the major, very effective climax. The film went through some extensive reshoots at the last hour, but the new ending integrates seamlessly with the rest of the film. I had a good time with World War Z, although I have to admit after being inundated with so many zombie apocalypse stories in film and on television these last few years, I didn’t find anything enormously surprising here. It’s one of those movies you enjoy while you’re watching, but don’t think about very much after you leave the theater. But in a summer of disappointments, World War Z is definitely a stand-out, and well worth seeing on the big screen.
Shaunta: I went into the movie thinking that the CGI in the previews looked cartoonish, and I was happy that in the film itself, it didn’t seem quite as bad as that. At the very, very end there’s a long close up of one of the zombies that actually had us laughing. He kept clacking his teeth like his dentures didn’t fit. The zombies themselves felt a little generic, while the story about them didn’t to me. I mean, they moved fast instead of shambling, but otherwise they were just like any other zombie anywhere. I saw the end coming a few minutes before it did, which is unusual for me because I never catch that stuff. It was an inventive ending, but for me it was broadcast too loudly before it happened. Bottom line, though, I was entertained all the way through this movie, and left the theater hoping for a sequel and thinking that I’d need to pick up the book. You can’t ask for too much more than that.
Synopsis: We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna. (Via IMDB)
Brian’s Review: One of my five favorite films of the last decade is Before Sunset, the glorious romantic sequel to Before Sunrise. It’s a film that shouldn’t even exist, given the low box office returns of Richard Linklater’s 1995 story of two people in their early twenties who meet on a train and end up spending the next twenty-four hours together walking around Vienna. Hollywood doesn’t make sequels to films that don’t make loads of money, so Before Sunset is that enigma—a sequel made purely out of love for its characters rather than financial gain. At the end of Before Sunrise, we’re left wondering if Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) will reunite in six months and continue their whirlwind romance. In Before Sunset, we learn that they didn’t end up crossing each other paths that December, and haven’t seen each other in nine years. Jesse has written a novel about the time they spent together, prompting Celine to attend his book signing in Paris. They meet outside, and the following seventy-five minutes follows the couple in real time as they just talk, and walk around Paris. And it’s seventy-five of the most enchanting, honest minutes I’ve ever seen in the movie.
I’ve watched Before Sunset as much as any other movie I’ve seen in my lifetime. There’s not a moment that drags, not a scene that feels false. It’s one of those rare movies that doesn’t feel like a movie at all, but instead a glimpse into real life. Even though it’s just two people talking for seventy-five minutes, the film builds and builds, almost like a suspense thriller, with Jesse having a flight he needs to catch, and demons of both their pasts slowly creeping out, leading toward a scene in the back of a car that is so startling in its immediacy and intimacy that it’s impossible not to have a gut reaction. Jesse drops Celine at her home, and follows her upstairs to listen to one of her songs. After she plays him Waltz for a Night, a beautiful song even if it were listened to out of the context of the film, she tells him, “You are gonna miss that plane.” Jesse smiles and says, “I know.” Fade to black. One of the most perfect endings ever.
For the last nine years we’ve heard rumblings about a third film, and for a long time I felt mixed about the prospects of it. On one hand, Before Sunset is one of my favorite movies, and the opportunity to spend another film with these characters would be a blessing. On the other hand, Before Sunset is so perfect, I worried about Lanklater & Co messing up the third movie, or simply making a decent third movie, one that doesn’t build on what’s come before. Of course when I finally heard last August that they had completed production on the third film, I jumped out of my chair in excitement. I’ve been following the movie ever since like a stalker, from its Sundance world premiere, to its reception in Berlin, to the decision to release it the same weekend as the sequel blockbuster juggernauts Fast & Furious 6 and Hangover 3. (Don’t want gratuitous threequels? Here’s Before Midnight.) When I learned the film was opening in Reno last weekend, I enjoyed a double-feature of the first two movies the night before, and raced to the theater the next day to finally, after nine years, check in on the lives of Celine and Jesse.
When I was a kid, I loved movies. Like, really loved movies. Like, every time I sat down in a theater I got all giddy and excited and needed someone close by to calm me down. At twenty-eight years old, I don’t really feel that way when I go to the movies anymore. I’ve become more cynical, more jaded, more ready to accept mediocrity instead of something that engages me. And that feeling I used to get when I sit down in a movie theater has mostly gone away, replaced with the fear that someone with a baby might sit behind me, or two thirteen-year-olds with cell phones might sit in front of me. I realized, when I sat down for Before Midnight, that feeling returned. I hadn’t felt it in so long that I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I kicked back, pushed my hands up against my chin, and as the lights went down, I just kept reminding myself, “I’m about to watch a new Celine and Jesse movie.” It didn’t feel real. Not until the Sony Pictures Classics logo appeared, and Ethan Hawke appeared on the screen, and we were off and running.
All right, all right, five paragraphs in, and still nothing about the movie. You’re probably thinking I’ve built it up so much that now’s the time I start tearing it down. Quite the opposite, actually. I haven’t been able to write about Before Midnight for a whole week, because I’m still reeling from it. This film impacted me so much, especially in its third act, that it took me a few days to process it. In the end, I’d like to declare Before Midnight something I don’t think I’ve ever called a movie before: a miracle.
It’s not supposed to work this way. The third film of a series, especially a sequel to a second film I love so much, is not supposed to live up to expectations. It’s not supposed to be made with the same texture and intelligence and care that the first two movies were made with. Before Midnight is a complete enigma, because one, it’s a film that doesn’t necessarily need to exist, and two, it’s a beautiful work of art that uses its unique history tied to two previous stories to create something extraordinary. I knew walking in that this wasn’t going to be a story of two people walking around Greece whispering romantic nothings into each other’s ears. In the early minutes of Before Midnight, we learn that Jesse did indeed miss the plane, and ended up moving to Paris to live with Celine, where they had twin girls, and have been together for the last nine years. This set-up creates a different dynamic to the film, because they’re not reuniting after a long period of time, but finishing up a Greece vacation with two kids in tow, and lots of tension brewing under the surface. It would have been false not to send Celine and Jesse to some kind of dark place sometime during the film, but nothing prepared me for the third act of Before Midnight.
The first two acts are beautifully done, with the kind of dialogue-heavy scenes we’re accustomed to in this series, as well as some scenes with an ensemble of actors that we’re not used to. One of my questions going into the movie concerned Jesse’s son, who we learned about in the second movie. I was worried that the focus would be on the new twin girls, and his son from his previous marriage would be tossed aside. I was thrilled to discover not only do we get to meet Jesse’s boy in the film’s first scene, but his character hangs over the entire movie like some kind of ticking time bomb about to explode. We don’t even see Celine for about ten minutes, and instead spend time with Jesse and his boy at the airport while he waits for him to board his flight back to the United States. It’s the perfect entryway into this third installment, making Celine’s reveal all the more powerful. A stunning fifteen-minute unbroken shot of Celine and Jesse talking in the car follows, and then we’re treated to a few scenes with an ensemble of actors where we finally, after three movies, get to see the two interact for a long period of time with other people. Even though we don’t know these other characters very well, the intimacy remains, and the dinner scene give us a welcome glimpse into the couple’s social life. The section of Before Midnight that most resembles the first two movies takes place when Celine and Jesse take a long walk to a local hotel, where they’ve been treated to a night alone with a bottle wine and a five star room, just the two of them. Their natural chemistry comes through in this long walking scene, maybe more than any other in this third installment. Then they arrive at the hotel. And go up to their room. And start kissing. And then the phone rings.
I’ve seen plenty of movies where two characters argue on screen. But I don’t know if I’ve ever had such a visceral reaction to the kind of biting, mind-blowingly honest argument Celine and Jesse have in that claustrophobic hotel room in Before Midnight’s third act. I care as much about these two characters as I do any characters in any movie I’ve ever seen, so to see them battle with words, the same way heroes and villains battle in summer action epics, affected me deeply. “I am giving you my whole life,” Jesse says at one point. “I’ve got nothing larger to give.” The scene is unpleasant, brutal, cathartic, engrossing. So precise in its acting, writing, and directing, the way the scene builds and builds and builds all the way to a line of dialogue you hoped would never come. Just like everything we’ve come to expect in this series, the scene unfolds slowly, naturally, never with a sting on the soundtrack to tell us someone’s about to get mad. It’s a scene so perfect in its construction that it has to be seen to be believed.
There’s one last scene at a table outside, where the film ends leaving us unsure about Celine and Jesse’s future. While we hoped at the end of both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset that they’d end up together, at the end of Before Midnight we’re concerned if they’re going to stay together. The third installment could have just done what had been done before. But Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke are smarter than that, and they’ve given us a third film in this gorgeous series that questions everything that has come before, and asks us to identify with the age-old wisdom, that love is hard. Jesse and Celine are perfect for each other, there’s no doubt about that, but even a love as true as this will hit some stumbling blocks along the way. And one of those big stumbling blocks is on display at the end of Before Midnight. This is an extraordinary film, an important film, one I look forward to watching again and again over these next nine years as I eagerly await a possible fourth installment. I may not get as excited about movies today as I used to, but I was, and am, certainly excited about this one. Before Midnight is the movie of the year.