My war on the MPAA is biting me in the butt! My film reviewer self says, "Man, this movie is pretty tame. Some language and romance, but R?" My Catholic self says, "Yes, R! Sexuality pervades this movie!" My Catholic side wins out. I approve this R rating. Not, like, "Yay, R!", but like...this movie should be R.
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
I try finding movies that my wife would like. She loves rom-coms. To a lesser extent, she likes romantic movies. I'm not pigeonholing her tastes, by any means. It's just that I like most genres of film, but I always want them to be quality. So when it comes to rom-coms, I get really snooty. I hate this about myself. I'll watch pretty much anything, but I can't shut off my critical brain. In a desperate attempt to find something that we both could enjoy, I turned to Richard Linklater. I have a back and forth on Linklater. I think the guy is a genius, for the most part. However, I also have a very tumultuous relationship with the indie films of the '90s.
I liked Slacker, but I liked it as a novelty. Slacker is a movie that inspired Kevin Smith to make Clerks. Like every college male, I thought Clerks was genius at the time. I now can't really handle it. I still think Kevin Smith is an interesting dude and I don't begrudge any Kevin Smith fans. However, that entire subgenre kind of rubs me the wrong way most of the time. There has to be something great about the low budget, talk-heavy indie. While I have to say that Before Sunrise is definitely in this category, there is something remarkably sweet. It isn't perfect, but I'll get to that later. Rather, Linklater does something cool with an extremely simple concept. (I think that might be his forte.) He shows the entirety of a relationship and how people actually grow into each other. The framing device of placing the entire relationship with time constraints is both what makes the limited plot work and allows an element of reality to peek through. I am probably going to comment on the reality in a second, so if I don't, just mention it in the comments and I'll get back to it then. But these characters definitely grow into each other. I think I'm not completely out of line spoiling the idea that these characters eventually kiss. But the kiss kind of feels well earned in this movie. I would say that their attraction to one another seems much, but the pressure of a relationship under the gun of a plane leaving in the morning helps this moment seem authentic. Again, Linklater gets simplicity. The one thing about most romantic movies is that they exist in a heightened reality where rules of dating don't really apply. Thinking about other romance stories, characters must make these grandiose shows of affection and moments out of the context of a film might come across quite icky. Really, the only big moment of the story is the fact that Ethan Hawke's Jesse manages to convince Julie Delpy's Celine to get off of the train. It's a big moment, but that's just the right level of disbelief needed to make the movie work. It is still possible that Jesse could have been that convincing. To put it in Dungeons & Dragons terms, perhaps he just rolled well that day.
The reality kind of fails (see! I got back to it!) with how clever the movie is trying to be. Linklater's movies often feel like stage plays. Because the movie is composed of long cuts moving around the city, there is this expectation for the characters to be both witty and charming. I don't know if these characters would fall for each other as hard as they do within the realm of the story. I know that Linklater doesn't make Jesse perfect and I really appreciate that, but there are times that he is just flat out dorky. Jesse is kind of presented as this confident young guy, but many of his mannerisms come across as awkward. Is this because Linklater might be kind of a dork? Maybe it lies in Hawke's performance. But I find it odd that Celine likes moments that I find cringe-worthy. Although this might be about my self-esteem as well. Like I mentioned, some of these moments felt real. I just know that a younger version of me would try to pull off some of the moves that he throws down only to meet rejection. I somehow tricked my wife into compartmentalizing my more annoying traits to see what few traits are actually positive. (I do dishes and cook dinner.) But I wanted to crawl under the fleece while watching some of the things that were supposed to be charming. The odd thing is that I found Celine to be genuinely charming. I really liked her character, but had no idea why she liked him. There were moments that implied her thoughts on love and infatuation and I'm glad those moments weren't spelled out completely. There's a great mystery behind her character that I don't want solved. As much as I gripe about Jesse and the fact that many of his dating moves are gross, the two do have a pretty solid chemistry.
I think that chemistry is made up of many moments. Part of it comes with vulnerability in silence. The image above was this great moment where both of them were listening to records in a booth. As an actor, it had to be tough to act with nothing but vulnerability. There were just these moments where no one was saying anything, but at no point did they mug from awkwardness. It was about existing and reacting. Going back to those long takes and the playlike script, that's where the reality came in. Yes, there is a lot of talking in this movie. It's Linklater at the height of his Linklaterdom. People are going to wax poetic and be extremely insightful about the most mundane points. But that dialogue is only about being clever. Honestly, the more clever the dialogue got, the more I thought it distracted from the emotional core of the movie. It was in the silences and the reactions that the movie worked. This ties into what else made the movie work. The movie being set in Vienna is absolutely brilliant. Yeah, it's a little pretentious, but I'm a little pretentious. I am, after all, writing a film review about a Linklater movie from 1995 on my film blog that only a few people read. I get pretentious. But setting the movie against this absolutely beautiful backdrop raises the expectations for the date and allows the tracking shot to take on another dimension. Simple action is ignored for the treatment of the setting as a character. As they walk and talk or take a means of public transportation, their conversation becomes a score for the city of Vienna. The couple is still the center of attention, but their surrounding bathes them. As a side note from this idea, I wonder if this story would work in a mundane location like Toledo or Dayton. Is a message about love revolving around what beauty does to our rational mind? I don't know, but the movie is really pretty. Finally, the knowledge of knowing that this story can't have an absolutely happy ending creates a unique form of suspense. My wife and I hoped for a happy ending, but there is no real solution that would fit within the narrative and context of reality. I choose not to elaborate on the final ending, but that thought of "How is this going to work?" is a great idea to pass through our minds.
Again, I like Slacker, but the very witty characters kind of threw me out. There was a scene of these two local actors telling the protagonists about a play that they're in that felt very indulgent. I liked the moment, but it did pull me out of the reality of the situation. There were a few times where the movie tried to show off how clever the movie was. I think that is the problem with writing a story like this. It's like when people are responsible for writing genius characters. The audience has to accept that everything that is being said is genius. The same is true for charismatic characters. If a charismatic character says something witty, as an audience, we have to accept it as witty whether it is or not. There were moments that I didn't know why the characters thought a moment was truly poignant or not. They had to have that emotional reaction because the story calls for it, but I didn't agree that people would be moved in that moment organically.
The movie is pretty good. I need to stop watching movies when I'm sleepy because loosely boring parts knock me out. I stayed awake, but it was through sitting up and rocking sometimes. I actually can't wait for the second part in the trilogy and I promise to caffeinate myself before hand because I'm actually excited to watch it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.