Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help you choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new drama starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Before Midnight.

Occasionally we experience a film so smart in its approach, and authentic in its characters, that we feel invited to share real moments with real people rather than observe staged situations the filmmakers may create.

Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight takes us to the heart of a complex and caring relationship between a husband and wife who, sometimes, let life get in the way of how they love. As they handle jobs, raise children and juggle extended families, they confront a universal challenge: How do we prevent the details of our lives from robbing us of the joys of our lives? And how do we make sure that our schedules don’t overwhelm our priorities?

What makes this journey special is how Linklater — with collaborators Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke — have chartered this relationship on film for almost 20 years. Their first film, Before Sunrise in 1995, reveals two young people eager to experience life and naïve about its demands. Their lack of maturity injects tension into a relationship that, from the start, offers promise. Nine years later, in Before Sunset (from 2004), they rediscover each other, now mature enough to recognize the patterns of youth without, necessarily, the skills to navigate. The new film, again set nine years later, finds the married couple living in Paris, raising twins and juggling the pressures of people living lives more serious than, perhaps, they ever intended.

While most films are a series of sequences, this trilogy thrives on extended cuts of lengthy conversations that seem lifted from life. Nothing in the films feels staged; the filmmakers invite us to eavesdrop on these characters. Rather than give the film a stilted “reality show” feel, however, this approach makes us feel we know these people. And, nine years after our last visit, Before Midnight makes us glad to reunite.

The film begins with a simple yet complex conversation between husband and wife as they drive with their twins. What begins as casual chit-chat soon becomes, as each dares to be candid, a revelation of the gaps the relationship must overcome. The truth, humor and layers of conversation immediately fill in any story points we need to follow. As the film progresses and we spend time with these characters, we easily see how, in our lives, we permit what we do to fill our days to get in the way of what we want to experience in our days. Without exaggeration, Linklater helps us see ourselves as we experience lovely people who may not always recognize their limits.

Hawke and Delpy are sublime. He brings a layer of thwarted ambition to a man whose carefree approach to life may limit what he can accomplish. She conveys the balance of priority of many a mother, someone who dearly cares for her children while trying to keep the family together. Her performance teaches us about how over-scheduling the calendar can overtax the heart. Hawke and Delpy make us believe these people exist and will, again soon, invite us to share another chapter.

In a summer that will be filled with sequels, computer-generated visuals, and unnecessary 3-D movies, Before Midnight reminds us what film can accomplish when the creators trust what the audience can believe.


Film Nutritional Value

Before Midnight

* Content: High. The magic of Richard Linklater’s journey with two complex characters continues in this magical new episode.

* Entertainment: High. Without diluting the material for a wide audience, or unnecessarily exaggerating the characters, the film compels from its first moment.

* Message: High. Although this film is not for family viewing, adults will identify with the realities these characters face and older teenagers may see a new side of parenthood and relationships.

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity is welcome to talk with older teenagers and young adults about the commitments that help relationships endure.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You can use the film as an opportunity to discuss how we keep the people we care for at the center of our lives.


(Before Midnight is rated R for “sexual content/nudity and language”. The film runs 108 minutes.)

5 Popcorn Buckets