Reviewed by Tom Panarese
Rating: 5 Beans
ll right, I tried.
Really, I did. This is the second time I have sat through "Before Sunrise," and just like I did the first time I watched it, I walked away feeling disappointed. And it's not like I don't get romantic comedies, or independent movies, or "smart" movies, or whatever you want to call this particular genre. I have seen enough Truffaut, Jarmusch, and Hartley, and have worshipped at the altar of Lloyd Dobler long enough to know where I'm coming from here. I mean, I really wanted to like this movie.
"Before Sunrise" opens on a train in Austria that, as we learn, is bound for Paris, but not before it makes a stop in Vienna. On the train are Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an Amrican college student seeing the region on a Eurorail pass, and Celine (Julie Delpy), who is on her way back to Paris, where she studies at Le Sorbonne. As a couple on the train fights loudly in German, Celine changes her seat and winds up sitting across from and striking up a conversation with Jesse. The two retire to the dining car and he becomes struck by both her beauty and intelligence and invites her to delay her return to Paris and spend the night with him in Vienna. Not in a hotel room or anything like that, but roaming the streets, hanging out, experiencing the city while he waits to head to the airport the next morning.
Oh, and talking. A lot.
Of course, a romance blossoms, but it's illustrated in a way that's a bit unconventional for your typical romance flick. There are no jilted lovers. There are no jealous ex-boyfriends. There is no overbearing father. And nobody has a life-threatening illness. What Richard Linklater has essentially done here is take the beginning of a typical romantic comedy -- the "getting to know you ane fall for you" part, which is usually ten minutes long and involves some sort of montage -- and stretched it to an hour and a half. The plot progresses organically. The audience knows as much about the characters as the characters know about one another (for example, we don't know Jesse and Celine's names until proper introductions are made). Furthermore, the major plot complication comes about only after the couple has experienced the initial risk of spending this time together, and after they have obviously started to become smitten with one another. What happens, they ask, after they go their separate ways in the morning? That questions slowly goes from looming in the distance to needing to be immediately addressed (and while there are no pop ditties on the soundtrack, I couldn't help but be reminded of Carole King). Hawke and Delpy help it along deftly, as they are likable and seem very comfortable with their characters, as well as one another.
Unfortunately, while taking a relatively unconventional approach to what probably is a "classic" or "old-fashioned" love story (two strangers meeting on a train and sharing a wonderfully romantic time together in a place such as Vienna is the subject of many a fantasy, I can assure you), Linklater falters. It's just a little, but that's all that he needs to make this film a disappointement. All great screen romanices have amazing dialogue; many have witty repartee during many stages of the lovers' evolution. But, as we all know, romance in real life has more mundane conversation and awkward moments, and while the movie gives us those as well, it fails to achieve the mean between fantasy and reality that it's ultimately looking for. There are witty mometns and engageing discussions as well as a decent amount of cute scenes involving awkward silences, pinball machines, and riverside poetry, but the script is verbose to the point where it's disengaging. During many of Jesse and Celine's lengthy conversations, I found myself more interested in the scenery, or what was happening in the background.
Nevertheless, I'm on the fence here. It's a film worth watching, only so that you can figure all of this out for yourself (or not). "Before Sunrise" may be a victim of verbosity, and also of its time -- Hawke is still in his Troy Dyer phase here and Delpy, with her long dress over a T-shirt, clunky shoes, and flannel is the spitting image of Lisa Kudrow on the first season of "Friends" -- and in its defense, the sex-romp "Omigod the Guiness in Ireland tastes so much better" kids of "Euro Trip" weren't even in high school by then. But it's also the result of a director experiencing growing pains. Linklater spent his previous two films, "Slacker" and "Dazed & Confused," paying homage to the directors of his youth (Robert Altman and George Lucas, respectively) and now it seems that he's made a film that is more "his." Unfortunately, the end result is what can only be described as porn for pseudo-intellectuals.
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