It's not that one is eager to leave a film festival like Sundance, after 10 or so days shuttling between venues and standing in overheated tent lines, but it's nice to have the option. After a week of clear and snow-less weather, the skies over Park City darkened and filled with sleet as this year's festival wound down, unleashing a thick coating of ice while most of us began packing our bags. She's a jealous mistress.
With the nearest airport closed and flights cancelled or overbooked for days, festival-goers took the opportunity to catch the films they didn't get a chance to see, or just some zzz's that passed them by. Certainly there were enough very good films to make up for the perceived lack of a really great one: Fruitvale, Kill Your Darlings, Afternoon Delight, The Spectacular Now and The Way, Way Back left with either honors or buyers or both. The Way, Way Back, a coming-of-age comedy starring Steve Carell (still remembered fondly by Sundance buyers, no doubt, as a star of Little Miss Sunshine) as a nightmare sort-of stepdad, made the biggest deal of the festival: $10 million from Fox Searchlight.
If Before Midnight was the sentimental favourite going into Sundance, it emerged as something tougher and more… adult. Richard Linklater's third in what is now a real-time trilogy finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), who met and spent a single night together in Before Sunrise (1994) and reunited for a life-changing afternoon in Before Sunset (2004), married with twins in tow. Based in Paris but vacationing for the summer in Greece, the couple banter and squabble as usual, this time about their children, their schedules, and Jesse's increasing guilt over his 12-year-old son, whose mother retained custody and keeps the child in Chicago.
Set over the course of a single day and night, Before Midnight (pictured) follows Jesse and Celine to the Kalamata airport, where they drop off Jesse's son, back to the villa where Jesse has lodged his family as part of a writing fellowship, through a wide-ranging group dinner, and finally across town to the hotel where their friends have secured the couple a room for their last night in Greece. It takes a minute to get used to this relatively crowded cast and format—life has expanded, and Linklater (who as usual collaborated with Hawke and Delpy on the script) reflects and inhabits that expansion well.
But if it's Jesse and Celine walking and talking we want, it's Jesse and Celine walking and talking we get, winking not-quite-all the way. Things take a turn, as they did in the last film, toward darkness when the day's light spirits fall away. At the hotel, Celine's prickly remarks become pointed—she questions Jesse's guilt over his son and what he would have her do about it—and there follows a fight for the Ingmar Bergman hall of fame.
I'm still not sure about the choices made with regard to Celine—if she seemed a bitty nutty in the last installment, her quirks give way to female cliché here. If Delpy is more believable as a challenging wit than a “difficult” woman, Hawke has always seemed a bit awkward in telegraphing Jesse's expansive charm. When Celine starts her vicious inverted spiral, however, it's Hawke who grounds the scene in exasperation, even as the thinness of Jesse's defenses comes through.
To the relief if not the surprise of many, Sony Pictures Classics bought the North American and UK rights to Before Midnight soon after its first Sundance screening. I like that Linklater brought the film to Sundance, where Before Sunrise premiered in 1995. And I like watching these characters get older—happier, sadder—together. Continuity is the thing, isn't it. See you all next year.