Before Sunset

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

        “Before Sunset” is a sequel that pales beside its excellent predecessor.  Why does it go wrong when the same two actors, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, reprise their roles?  The problem is Ethan Hawke. 

       In the original, Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) met on a train at 23, fell into wonderfully connected conversation, left the train in Vienna and wandered the city throughout the night.  Parting with the promise to meet there again in six months, they had been lifted up by the kind of magical chemistry that promises so much to anyone lucky enough to experience it.  “When you’re young,” Celine says, you think there will be many people you will connect with, and as you get older you realize it happens only once or twice.”  They never meet again.

       As the sequel opens, Jesse is in Paris on tour with his new bestseller, the story of the couple’s unforgettable Viennese night, when he sees Celine in the back of the room.  His flight for America will leave in two hours allowing just enough time to reconnect as they walk through Paris .  They are 32 years old.

       The movie opens beautifully with a few shots from the earlier film that began with their meeting and ended with their promise.  We learn that one had kept the promise while the other had not.  Now they are in Paris , and they are still in love.  The fine premise works for several minutes and then fades as we realize there is an awkward, labored quality to the conversation that is not going to go away.  In a single, major flaw, Ethan Hawke walks stiffly through a role that calls for excitement and perception; in doing this, he isolates Delpy, his lively partner. 

       Most movie reviewers want actors to succeed, and there is no pleasure in placing the blame squarely on one performer.  Whether this is Ethan Hawke, the man, or Hawke the actor misplaying a part is the puzzle.  It seems that neither side of him has grown more interesting in a decade. 

       With a scraggly mustache paired with a thin patch of chin hair in obedience to the fashion mandate of today, he talks in monotone and flecks his sentences with “ya knows,” and other lazy little interjections.  But wait a minute; Jesse is supposed to be a writer.  Never, not this leaden fellow.  Let’s just say that Jesse in Paris is a disappointment, not a man Celine would lose her heart to a second time. 

       Julie Delpy, on the other hand, has become a sophisticated, spirited woman.  We watch her face for clues to what’s going on in that eager mind.  And remember, there’s a lot of face-watching in this movie.   Paris may be the backdrop, but this is one long conversation that requires good writing and gets it, good acting and gets only half.  In the next chapter of this romance, it will be interesting to see what life has written by then on Ethan Hawke’s face.

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