Don’t begin with – ‘This is the End’; Enjoy instead – ‘Before Midnight’

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

If I had to name four actors I’d love to see burn in Hell, they would be, in no particular order, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride.

Hence my admittedly twisted interest in “This is the End,” that starts out at a party at James Franco’s house and ends up dispatching various people to various locations (the choice is limited to Heaven and Hell).

Mid-party, all hell breaks loose and what is initially presumed to be another earthquake is, instead, the End of Days, the Rapture, the Apocalypse or whatever you like to call the craziness going on in Revelations.

The ensuing chaos leaves the aforementioned actors — all playing themselves to add to the comedy (?) — plus the likable Craig Robinson  (“The Office”) and the harmlessly appealing Jay Baruchel holed up in Franco’s house while fire and brimstone rains down on L. A.

Some make it. Some don’t. All I know is that I almost didn’t. This thing lasts almost two hours and the high points of  “hilarity” are masturbation jokes, projective vomiting and cannibalism (at least I got to see one of my Unfantastic Four eaten alive).

In an odd way. “This is the End” reminded me of “Ghostbusters” —only, with better special effects and a much worse script. One critic likened it to the Website, “Funny or Die.”

Not funny enough, and everyone took too long to die.

“Before Midnight,” by comparison, looks like it was made in another world. And, in a way, it was.

Richard Linklater’s long-running romance, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, started in 1994 in Vienna (“Before Sunrise”), continued in 2004 in Paris (“Before Sunset”), and renews their story with “Before Midnight,” set on the sunniest, most delectable Greek Island you could ever imagine.

So yes, all three films use considerable Breathtaking Setting Cred to their advantage. But by now, I think those of us who’ve stuck with the series would gladly watch Hawke and Delpy walk and talk in the parking lot of a Motel 6.

And let’s face it: that’s what these “Before” movies are about — walking and talking. Their conversation is sometimes deep talk, sometimes flirtatious, sometimes angry, sometimes annoyingly self-conscious. But it’s always in some place you’d also like to be.

“Before Midnight” collide with the couple when they have been together for several years. Not married — so American gauche — but bonded enough to live together in Paris and raise adorable twin daughters (a bingo the first time they had unprotected sex, Delpy likes to point out).

They are facing several, well, pressures. He’s having guilty feelings about not being with his son by his first marriage who visits but still lives with his mom in he U.S.

When he tentatively tosses out the idea of their maybe moving from Paris to some place like Dayton, Ohio, a firestorm ensues. She’s just been offered a huge job. He, after all, can write anywhere (Hawke is a vest-selling novelist, which is how they re-connected in the second movie).

But Linklater refuses to take one side or another. And while he’s expert at showing us why these two got together, he — and his actors — are even better at the sharp-edged resentments and rage that can build over a longtime relationship. The take-no-prisoners row they have in the last third of the film is worthy of  “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

But please know, if you didn’t like the first two movies, you won’t like this one. It’s just more of the same. Also know, you don’t need to have seen the first two movies to be up to speed on this one.

The pictures — along with Delpy and Hawke — have grown on me over the years. Two decades (or close enough) is a long-term commitment for anyone to anything. And, interestingly —and probably not coincidentally — the nature of commitment is precisely what this film is about.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

1 reply
  1. Sandy and Danny says:

    With ‘Before Midnight’ I disagree that this movie can be enjoyed without having seen the first two. I took in all three with my wife this past Sunday, our first viewing of the films. We thoroughly enjoyed the first two movies, but ‘Midnight’ left us feeling exhausted. Maybe that was Linklater’s point? In the first two movies, we felt swept up in the love story and the immediacy of their relationship blossoming and reconnecting in the course of two days, nine years apart. This film gives you not much reason to want to pull for them to make it as a couple, and I found Delpy’s lines manipulated to sound even crazier than the normal angst of modern life as an adult and parent. I took the message of the film to be that even in the most romantic and hopeful of relationship origins, life is hard, and coupledom takes work and has its share of unavoidable turbulence. Fine, that’s all true, but the donnybrook the couple have in the movie’s last third left us not liking either of them very much. It was also surprising to see a brief glimpse of the physical love between the two, which had only been implied in the first two movies. That the big row takes place in the midst of and after they fool around made it even more jarring and feeling like it was forced in the viewer’s faces. In the first two movies, viewers want them to “make it” in every sense of the word. Here, getting jiggy leads to getting to the most precarious place we’ve seen their relationship go. I recently read a description of marriage as only being ‘worth it’ with someone with whom you’d like to have a fifty-year conversation. Hawke and Delpy have lovely, rich, compelling conversation in the most beautiful of locales, but with their epic fight, it felt like this film slapped their fans in the face with a dead fish.Report

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