Credit Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy with the ability to keep a conversation witty and engaging over the course of a ten minute steadicam shot – not to mention remembering paragraphs of lines over a single take. They are as charming in “Before Sunset” as they were nine years ago in the sublime 1994 film “Before Sunrise.”
Do NOT credit Richard Linklater and his two leads with the ingenuity to provide us with a single coherent new thought in this over-cute sequel beyond emotional regret. The film just tries too hard to make a single point.
The story picks up nine years after Jesse and Celine’s emotional tryst in Vienna as chronicled in “Before Sunrise.” When we left the two lovers, they had decided to part ways without providing contact information, and rendezvous six months later. Their second meeting never takes place. Fast-forward to “Before Sunset,” when Jesse has written a book based on his experience with Celine, and while signing it in a Parisian coffee shop encounters her again. Their feelings for each other come surging back, and they spend the little time he has before catching his plane in each other’s company, attempting to figure out the peculiar definitions they have for their relationship.
The best part of the film is the early dialogue, when Jesse and Celine are forced to move through their regret over the missed opportunity they threw away nine years ago. Their conversation begins awkwardly, then gradually returns to the familial perky to-and-fro which so endeared audiences to the first film. For quite some time, you will want to watch their repartee traverse from casual to emotional to sexual subjects; it’s a funny type of run-on commentary which entertains even as you wonder where it’s headed.
Once the two characters begin talking in earnest about their feelings for each other and the progressions their lives have taken in the last nine years despite their obvious attraction, the movie turns dour and predictable. Every regret he has is echoed by hers, every tale of trapped love she tells is answered by one from him. I eventually wanted to rap their heads together; the fact is they chose their paths, and those paths have made them miserable. Boo-hoo. Un-choose them. Sleep with each other. Whatever.
I yearn for the sequel which would have explored the situation wherein one of these characters was blissfully happy with their new life, and the other terribly disgruntled with theirs. The sexual dynamic between the two might have then progressed beyond the predictable to the moral/ethical; given the intellectual superiority of its characters, “Before Sunset” might then have delivered a conversation worth pursuing once the credits rolled. Instead, I just wanted to shout “Get a room!” halfway through the movie and do something more interesting with my time… like watching paint peel.