MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Romantic Drama/ Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy/ Runtime: 101 minutes
I feel it must be stated that although at first glance Before Sunrise may appear to be a romance film for the slacker generation, due to the presence of 90’s indie film genius Richard Linklater at the helm, I promise you that this is one time where appearances are extremely deceiving and that this is a film which is so much more than that. I say that because Before Sunrise is an extremely unconventional yet ultimately heartwarming and heartstring tugging in all the best ways telling of a dream that most if not all of us share in our respective hearts come true. This dream of course takes the form of a romance in all its passion and glory, yet remarkably without any of the pitfalls that seemingly befall most couples. Put another way: this is a film which is about two people that have a relationship that’s as close to perfection as relationships could or will ever come to with just one distinct problem. That distinct problem is no more and no less than the problem of limited time. The reason this is so distinct is because while most relationships, more often than not, inevitably peter out and time keeps going strong as it always will, the one portrayed in this film actually manages to keep going and growing strong throughout yet time itself is the only thing that peters out. Thus I hope that is something which shows (or at least I hope it shows) that Before Sunrise is certainly not the typical sentimental ‘Hollywood romance’. A fact, incidentally, that in the eyes of this reviewer is another significant aspect that helps put this film leagues ahead of the constant pretenders that plague Hollywood every year. Indeed when you combine that with a extremely insightful script, and 2 dominating lead performances what you are left with then is a romance story for the ages that will make you laugh, make you cry, and above all make you think and ponder about what will be, and what truly could’ve been….
The plot is as follows: Before Sunrise tells the story of 2 20-something year-olds: an American named Jessie and a Frenchwoman named Celine who find themselves interacting on a train ride to Vienna, and during the course of their initial interaction 2 things become clear: they clearly have chemistry and they wish to spend more time together; a feat which is difficult seeing as Jessie is leaving for America the following morning. Undeterred however, Jessie suggests the bold idea of Celine getting off the train with him and just walking around Vienna with him for the remainder of his time there. Once Celine agrees and gets off the train however, the stage is set: not only for this young couple to uncover things about themselves and each other, but in the process fall into a passionate romance that, despite their time restraint, may prove to be one of the most meaningful they will ever truly know….
Now despite this film being gifted with a truly well-written and quite brilliant in many aspects script I still feel that is only half the puzzle towards making a film such as this work. Indeed for a film and that kind of script to truly soar it needs, above all else, truly great actors to deliver the written word in a way that not only does it justice, but also makes it flow. Thankfully Richard Linklater has always been able to find just the right people for the assorted parts in his various projects, take Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused for example, and I am happy to say that Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy definitely fit that mold to a t. Indeed I think that the main reason these 2 are so brilliant in their respective roles is equal parts talent, but also the fact that never once do you get the feeling that these are 2 actors playing fictional characters. Rather our 2 main actors in this literally make the creative choice to fully embody the characters and become them to such an extent that you’d swear that this was a secretly-filmed voyeuristic documentary about 2 real people. I mean whether it’s Jessie’s hidden romantic side masked by a strong sense of cynicism or Celine’s omnipresent fear of death, these are 2 characters who I feel audiences will love to be around if for no other reason than they will ultimately find something that they have in common with one or both of them thus making us feel like we aren’t spending time in the company of 2 strangers, but instead 2 new friends who by film’s end have become very near and dear to our hearts.
Now even though this film contains the duo of powerhouse performances that I have previously mentioned I do feel that just as important if not more is the script that the 2 leads are performing off of. Thankfully Linklater is an extremely talented writer and in this movie it definitely shows itself quite prominently as contained within the script are several key and very deep speeches given by both characters individually about life, and most of which I could personally relate to. Indeed it is that relatability that I feel truly best represents what Richard Linklater has achieved with this script because not only does it help to create and build the characters, but it also manages to expose what true love really is, along with several other aspects of life. Indeed even the fact that not all the anecdotes that our 2 characters share are relatable to me and most likely will not always be relatable to every person out there personally again represents the brilliance of Linklater’s writing because it acknowledges that everyone is different, and so different parts of the script will appeal to different people. Indeed there could be certain aspects about one person that one person loves and another hates and that’s certainly the case with the musings in this script. I also admire how Linklater patiently shows us the building and evolution of the attraction we already know Jesse and Celine have towards one another because of how true to life it is. What I mean by that is that, like in real-life, this attraction turns out to be something that takes them a little while to catch on to with the best example of this being a wonderful scene where they are in the listening booth of a music store, and while the music is playing each one looks at the other, and then looks away, so as not to be caught. Indeed the way they do this – the timing, the slight embarrassment – is just so delicate and true to life that I found myself half-smiling and crying at the same time. Of course I feel that the proverbial “first kiss” on a Ferris wheel as dusk is setting in was just completely and utterly perfectly done in that it really felt like the perfect first moment of our 2 characters’ showcasing their feelings for one another in a beautiful way. Speaking of beauty aiding the narrative I feel major kudos must be given for adding the beauty of the city of Vienna. This is because while the city itself isn’t really important to the film as this is a story that could have taken place just about anywhere, this choice does make for some lovely visuals and the upbeat, energetic romance that blossoms throughout the movie I feel is definitely matched by the beauty of the location.
There is however another benefit that this film’s script showcases quite wonderfully that I forgot to mention above yet I feel definitely deserves to be mentioned. This benefit takes the form of the fact that this film’s script manages to do a wonderful job of managing to build the characters through their thoughts and feelings. This then allows us the incredible get to know them as we do the people in real life which also allows the audience the opportunity to believe that the film’s 2 characters are real-life people instead of actors working from a script. Thus by doing this, and actually making it work, this also allows us to feel for the characters for who they are, and not merely because they’re the protagonists. Indeed I am very much aware that this kind of realism is hard to capture because when all is said and done the audience knows that they’re watching a film and not observing real life as much as the movie industry tries to ground things in reality for certain genres as possible. Yet I feel it must be said that Before Sunrise truly does represents one of the truest to life exhibitions of pretty darn realistic realism that I’ve ever and probably will ever see on screen though if you ever see any other of Linklater’s works I feel that shouldn’t be any surprise due to his wonderful way of letting the world he creates for his characters be built by them and their choices, decisions, actions, etc.
All in all Before Sunrise is a simultaneously beautiful yet equally as captivating film. Indeed this may only truly be possible because of the simple fact that Richard Linklater with this film managed to create something that is rare in the world of cinema. That of course would be a film that not only captures the beauty and joys of 2 people meeting and falling in love quite spectacularly, but it also does this without ever going over the top, being overly sentimental, or both. Indeed it is no secret then to say that Before Sunrise is a jolt of pure cinematic brilliance for this particular genre. Yet although it makes me tear up each time I watch it because it reminds me of the first girl I could honestly ever say I really really loved and it probably always will I feel like that was meant to be the intended emotional response. Yet at the same time I also feel something else, and that is a sense of hope. Hope that maybe just maybe true love DOES exist after all, and that if it can happen for 2 strangers on a train trip to Vienna then, as crazy as it might sound, maybe just maybe it can happen for each and every one of us out there too. Indeed love and the ability to connect with another person on an emotional, physical, and mental level are truly two of the most beautiful things in the entire world, and this is a movie that manages to showcase just that and then oh so much more. On a scale of 1-5 I proudly and emotionally give Before Sunrise a 4 out of 5.
On behalf of the At the Movies desk I would just like to wish each and every one of you a Happy Valentine’s Day! Never forget just how amazing, wonderful, and fantastic each and every one of you truly are and how much we here at Drop the Spotlight love and appreciate you and all of your support and as for me I’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag