Franchise with Me: The BEFORE Trilogy w/ Genevieve Rice

I can’t even believe it took me this long to get around to Richard Linklater‘s widely celebrated trio of meet-cutes – The Before Trilogy. Released exactly nine years apart from one another, each film in this trilogy follows the natural progression of a chance encounter turned romantic entanglement between an overly confident and compensating, but good-hearted and heartbroken American man, Jessie (Ethan Hawke), and a prudent, more mature, and practical, but maybe a bit overly cautious and too buttoned-up French woman, Celine (Julie Delpy). Over the course of three films, we really get to know and care about these two through gorgeously rendered dialogue, near flawless acting, and some truly fantastic set pieces. Goddamn, I want to go to Vienna and fall in love and not go to a German play about a cow!

With me for the first time since we reviewed another trio of sorts about a year ago – our favorite Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day movies — is writer, comedian, spouse, mother, and proud cat owner, Genevieve Rice. Genevieve has seen these movies a couple of times, I believe, whereas I am going in super fresh. She’s the authority here, not me.

In this article, the text written in RED will represent Genevieve‘s thoughts, while the text written in BLUE will represent my own thoughts.

Let’s get started!

Before Sunrise

directed by: Richard Linklater; screenplay by: Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan

cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

runtime: 101 minutes (1 hr, 41 min.)

release date: January 27, 1995 (limited release)

opening weekend U.S. box office:

  1. Legends of the Fall$6.3M
  2. Highlander III: The Final Dimension$5.6M
  3. Dumb & Dumber $4.2M
  4. Nobody’s Fool – $4M
  5. Higher Learning$3.4M

NOTE: Before Sunrise opened at 11th place in the box office earning $1.4M. Not bad for a limited release in just 363 theaters, as opposed to the standard 1500-2000 theaters of a mainstream release at the time.

total box office gross: $5.5M (made 1.2x its production budget)


Wow, so this was an excellent little indie movie that never tried too hard. I had this dumb idea in my head that this movie would be overly cutesy and emotionally manipulative, given the way a lot of people aggressively swoon for it. I must have forgotten we’re dealing with Richard Linklater here who is never too sentimental about anything. He lovingly sketches realistic characters through meticulous details but he never does it at the expense of being honest. Dazed & Confused and Everybody Wants Some!! deployed large ensembles of painfully human characters to create a mosaic of a specific time and place, but here Linklater uses only two characters and their ever-evolving relationship dynamic to take you back to being a European tourist in the mid-90s. A bunch of stuff felt vaguely familiar to my family’s late 90s European excursion, from annoyed locals who bitterly point out that they’ve done the homework to be bilingual and help you find your hotel, to very creative street performers who may just be fucking with your stupid American sensibilities.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke enjoying each others company in a scene from the film ‘Before Sunrise’, 1995. (Photo by Castle Rock Entertainment/Getty Images)

Anyway, we open on a train to Paris where the American Jessie (Ethan Hawke) approaches the French Celine (Julie Delpy). They begin hitting on each other and then they decide to be spontaneous and unexpected and just hop off the train and spend the day together in Vienna. They approach two annoying local actors who are desperate for people to come to their dumb show with a muddled plot about politics and dairy cows. Does this movie take place in Phoenix? Anyway, Celine and Jessie are like “yeah totally, we’ll come to your show…” and then get so wrapped up in Vienna nightlife that they leave these two thesps hangin’. From there they walk around more, and go to a record store where they have a rather intense will they/won’t they kiss moment of silence in one of the listening booths. So, for the younger readers out there, before Spotify people used to buy records and CDs. To sample the music on said record or CD, they’d go into these booths in music stores where you could listen to the album. Let’s see Jessie and Celine also play pinball, have a wonderful dinner under the stars and possibly have sex on a patch of grass. It’s ambiguous whether they have sex or not, I think they did. Why not, right? When in Vienna!

I did a “cow play” once.

It’s difficult to write about the events that happen in this movie without making it seem ass-numbingly boring because it’s just two people chatting and falling in love in (almost) real time. I’ll say this, the movie rises and falls on two things – 1) the dialogue; 2) the performances. Both are pretty beyond reproach. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Hawke and Delpy in these beautifully nuanced roles. The dialogue is subtle, cute, and really entertaining, for a movie about two people talking there’s not a dull moment to be found. Is it super realistic dialogue? Kind of, not really in some ways. It’s not as on-the-nose and quippy as a Sorkin or Tarantino piece, but I doubt any two humans alive could be this punchy and cute in the conversation for twelve hours straight. That’s fine, an uber-realistic conversation piece would be boring as hell and would take away from the emotional magic the movie conjures up.

There are so many great moments to be had between these two – my favorites are when Celine ponders if a bunch of bro dawgs created feminism just to get women’s clothes off and ready for sexin’ and the patch of grass exchange about the logistics of ever seeing each other again…that may or may not lead to sex. Anyway, this is a charming and incredibly well-made simple film from a filmmaker who clearly understands the human condition on like a Pedro Almodovar-level. Genevieve, what did you think of this one? And did I leave anything out?

Some Direct-to-Video movies Michael Margetis has been watching lately

First of all, thank you Michael for having me on to talk about a series of movies that I actually like. I just don’t think I have the physical or emotional fortitude to make it through and discuss multiple direct-to-videos at this time. 

Before Sunrise is one of the best depictions of “love at first sight” out there. And you really know they’re in it deep from the jump because Jesse is very upfront that he does not have enough money for a hotel and his grand plan was to spend the night walking around Vienna before his flight the next morning. There are people out there I like a lot, but there are very few I would agree to spend the night with completely outdoors like hobos. This movie could only take place in Europe because most Americans would immediately balk at the prospect of all that walking. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to get more than 5,000 steps in a day in most parts of the Midwest. Another way this is most certainly a movie that couldn’t take place in America is everyone they interact with on the streets is pretty charming, even the guys promoting the smoking cow play.  In the U.S. of A., when some rando asks you if you want to hear a poem, it means they are about to shoot Walt Whitman lines into your flesh. But enough talk about guns; let’s get back to the romance between the two. 

Julie Delpy, director Richard Linklater, and Ethan Hawke in between scenes from the film ‘Before Sunrise’, 1995. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)

Most of the plot is driven by conversation between the two as they take in Vienna and each other. Through talking, we not only learn about their thoughts on life and love, but we also see them trying to suss out each other’s energies and motives. Both are trying to impress each other without outdoing each other, but both are also trying to suss out if the attraction is as mutual as they hope it is. Once it is established that, in fact, they both are hot to trot for each other, the concern shifts to whether or not this incredible attraction they have is sustainable, which, arguably, is the overarching concern of the entire film series. 

Watching this movie, I can’t help but think of another portrayal of burgeoning whirlwind romance I’ve watched recently, Pam & Tommy. Tommy Lee and Pam Anderson may not be the type of people who read books while traveling like Celine and Jesse (as Celine and Jesse probably aren’t the type to get matching finger tattoos to commemorate their love), but they all share the unmistakable frenetic energy of vibing hard with someone new and exciting. Say what you will about Pam and Tommy about the ruinous exploitation of their sex tape being released to the public without their consent (and eventual domestic violence!), but you must admit their early days looked like a lot of fun. 

Celine and Jessie 9 years later in the sequel, Before Sunset

Before Sunset

directed by: Richard Linklater; screenplay by: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

runtime: 80 minutes (1 hr, 20 min.)

release date: July 2, 2004

opening weekend U.S. box office:

  1. Spider-Man 2$88.1M
  2. Fahrenheit 9/11 $16.2M
  3. White Chicks$8.6M
  4. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story $8.1M
  5. The Terminal$7.8M

NOTE: Before Sunset opened at 20th place in the box office earning $219,425. Not bad for a limited release in just 20 theaters, as opposed to the standard 2000-4000 theaters of a mainstream release at the time.

Total Box Office Gross: $16M (made 5.9x its production budget)


Nine years later, we find Celine and Jesse once again tearing up a European city together (this time Paris). Jesse is in the City of Lights on the very last tour stop for a best-selling book, which he wrote about his time with Celine in Vienna. Journalists at the signing ask if the story was autobiographical, to which Jesse admits hesitantly that it is. The journos also reveal that the ending of the book was ambiguous on whether or not the two protagonists end up meeting again six months later as promised. Jesse skirts the issue by saying the ending is open to interpretation depending on whether you’re a romantic (they got together) or a cynic (they did not get together). Then, Celine shows up at the end of the signing! But as the bookstore owner tells him prophetically, Jesse has only a short bit of time to leave for the airport back to the states, but he can take his driver’s number and have him pick Jesse up (which personally sounds very stressful to me for the driver, but I’ll allow it). So Jesse and Celine take to the streets of Gay Pari chatting up a storm, as this pair are wont to do. Talking in these movies is what fast vehicles are to the Speed franchise. If Jesse and Celine say less than 10,000 words to each other in an hour, lives will be lost. 

from left to right: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and Richard “the filmmaking cop” Linklater on set in Paris.

And thanks to our chatty duo, we learn quite a bit about how they’ve been faring apart in the last near-decade. Celine asks if Jesse made it to Vienna like they planned. Jesse initially says no, but when Celine reveals that she had planned to go but instead had to attend her grandmother’s funeral, Jesse admits sheepishly that, yes, he did go (and spent $2,000 on a ticket, which would have bought a lot of flannel in the mid-90s) and was pretty heartbroken not to find Celine. Jesse also reveals that the original ending of his book was that they did indeed meet up, made love for 10 days straight but then realized they didn’t really get along, which was scrapped at the urging of his editor. Celine also reveals that she spent a few years in college in New Year, where Jesse lived at the exact same time. 

We also learn that Jesse is married with a four-year-old son and the marriage is a cordial but loveless one. As Jesse grimly tells Celine, “I feel like I’m running a small nursery with someone I used to date.” Celine is not married but in a relationship with a war photojournalist that seems to be just the latest in a series of relationships that are all fine and good but simply do not measure up to the feelings she felt with Jesse in Vienna all these years ago. In the car Jesse is taking to the airport with plans to drop off Celine at her place, Celine confesses all to this to Jesse and becomes momentarily overcome at how much his book has stirred up for her. This is a beautiful, emotional moment that was also probably very awkward for this poor driver. At Celine’s apartment, Jesse walks her to the door, then asks to hear a song she’s written, which is – SURPRISE – about Jesse and their night in Vienna. The movie fades to black shortly and ambiguously after this, which you can interpret depending on how much it stresses you out to miss an international flight even for a shot at great love. 

In Before Sunrise, we have two people who spend the movie mooning over each other but somewhat guarded in case their chemistry is a happy accident. Nine years in the future, older and wiser Jesse and Celine clearly treasure their night together but are worried for a variety of reasons. What if the other doesn’t feel same way? What if they’ve built up the night too much and the reality doesn’t hold up? What if the initial passion fades away quickly?  What if we make this driver feel too awkward and he drives us both into The Seine? In Before Sunset, they both eventually discover that, in fact, that night was important to each other and the flames of passion are still quite bright years later. The ending of the film may be vague, but Jesse and Celine’s feelings for each other are not.

This is my favorite of the Before movies because it takes place in real-time. It’s 80 expertly paced, real-time minutes of two people who haven’t seen each other in a decade, and were under the impression they’d never see each other again, having just one more moment in time together. I’m not much of a romantic, but golly gee that’s romantic! The conversation seems similar but different because the people having it have aged ten years. Before Sunrise was about two people in their twenties while Before Sunset is about two people in their thirties. They’re less idealistic, they’re more in tune with the world’s problems, they’re more practical and less reckless, and they’ve started to feel the tethers of adulthood weighing down their ambitious hopes and dreams.

At the end of the first movie Celine and Jessie part ways without exchanging information because “it’s more romantic that way.” One of the first things they say to each other is how goddamn stupid it was not to exchange any information and more or less that’s something dumb twenty-somethings would do. They also made a plan to meet back at the Vienna train stop six months later. Celine never showed up because her grandparent died but Jessie did, and he was utterly heartbroken. He even wrote a novel about it, which is how Celine even found out he was in Paris — at her favorite bookstore by some divine coincidence, doing a lame book signing.

I could walk you through each of the conversation chapters but I won’t, but I’ll tell you my favorite parts. First, the car to the airport scene towards the end is maybe the best scene in the entire franchise. Lol, I just called Before Sunset a franchise, can’t wait for the action figures! Celine breaks down to Jessie about how much their one night nine years ago meant to her and how her entire life seems to have suffered because of it. She’s angry with him but tries to communicate with him that it isn’t even his fault, it’s no one’s fault. Jessie doesn’t get defensive at all, he completely agrees. Their one night meant so much because they both shared something with each other deeper than they’d ever shared before. It’s such a well-written stretch of dialogue and Linklater really succeeds in getting us as the audience to begin to feel the complex intricacies of what Delpy and Hawke’s characters are feeling.

There are so many little ambiguities in Before Sunset and that gives it power. Linklater has no interest in spoon-feeding you anything, he wisely only shows you a little sliver of their lives, keeping so many strands untied. Linklater is not only one of the best filmmakers of our time, but he’s also one of the greatest artists of our time, period, and certainly one of the most empathetic. The Austin, TX native also manages to do it without ever talking down to his audience and feeling pretentious. This might be his best film, even better than the glorious Dazed & Confused.

Let’s transition to the final entry of this series, about two lovers in their 40s.

Before Midnight

directed by: Richard Linklater; screenplay by: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

runtime: 109 minutes (1 hr, 49 min.)

release date: May 24, 2013

opening weekend U.S. box office:

  1. Fast & Furious 6$97.3M
  2. The Hangover 3 $41.6M
  3. Star Trek Into Darkness$37.2M
  4. Epic$33.5M
  5. Iron Man 3$19.3M

NOTE: Before Midnight opened at 18th place at the box office earning $246,914. Not bad for a limited release in just 5 theaters, as opposed to the standard 3000-4000 theaters of a mainstream release at the time.

Total Box Office Gross: $23.2M (made 7.7x its production budget)


Before Midnight is the true outlier of the Before trilogy because it breaks the rules. It has several well-developed, non-bit part characters that aren’t Jesse and Celine, one scene that involves an eight-person conversation and it opens with a five-minute conversation between two characters that aren’t Celine and Jesse. Well, Jesse is one of them, but Celine is not – the other one is Jesse’s son from his previous unhappy marriage. It’s a wonderfully written, seemingly authentic father/son chat in which a kid is embarrassed by his dad’s interest in his interests and a dad is wracked with guilt over living in another country from his son. Once Jesse parts way with his son, we see what his life with Celine has been the past couple of years – living in Paris, but vacationing in Greece (where the film takes place), with two twin daughters, and still intellectually bickering about the same shit. Only it’s gotten a bit more hostile and resentful, this is the first time we’ve seen these characters spend anything more than a day/night together, and they’ve allowed all their little quirks to irritate each other.

I can’t say for certain cause I’m only 33, but this seems like a movie that really captures some truth about being forty-ish and married with kids. You’re not as idealistic or romantic as you were in your 20s, you’re far more practical and responsible because you have to be in order to properly maintain your family. For Jesse and Celine, they’re arguing about a bunch of stuff from if Celine is still as sexy as when Jesse saw her or if Jesse’s writing is even a profession anymore or more of a glorified hobby the family has to suffer through or, and this is the big one, if Jesse and Celine should skip Celine’s big Paris job opportunity and instead move to Chicago so Jesse can see his son every other weekend. That triggers the movie’s best scene, a hotel room argument between the two that begins as a romantic getaway with hot and heavy foreplay, but quickly sours into a “you know what I hate about you…” contest.

Celine and Jesse in Before Midnight

There’s really only five or six scenes in the entire 109-minute film, and each one is pretty fantastic. Besides the great hotel room breakdown, there’s an eight-person dinner scene where three couples and two elderly widowers discuss relationship dynamics with the precision and grace of a big-time Ted Talker. Celine and Jesse are super passive-aggressive and mean to each other here, a great contrast to a younger 20-something couple that is so practical they admit they know they’re going to eventually break up. There’s also a great walk and talk scene with Celine and Jesse that beautifully transitions from rural farmhouse to town square and ends up in a Catholic church once the conversation turns to sex.

I think I like this one a little more than Before Sunrise in that I think it has the more difficult task of exploring the complexities of a nearly decade-long marriage. However, Before Sunset is the true masterpiece of the three because of how simple and compact it is. Genevieve, what did you think of this heavy conclusion to the trilogy?

Before Midnight is arguably the darkest of the trilogy, but it’s also the one with the most nudity. Richard Linklater understands that if you’re going to show a couple really getting into it, the least you can do is show us some nipples along the way as well. 

It’s been nine years since Jesse and Celine’s reunion in Before Sunset. And in that time, they’ve gotten married and they’ve had two of the blondest twins I’ve ever seen. Jesse also wrote a book about their rekindling that has not only been successful enough to pay for their home in Paris but also to get the whole family invited to the beautiful home of another writer in The Peloponnese for the entire summer. Honestly, being the summer-long guest of a handsome, interesting old European man with beautiful sweaters has rocketed to the top of my goals. Also staying at the house are the author’s grandson and his young girlfriend, two darling twentysomethings in the early throes of romance as Jesse and Celine once were; a middle-aged, childfree artistic couple with a somewhat combative but loving relationship; and an older widowed woman contending with moving on after her husband’s loss. An extended dinner scene has them all sharing their own thoughts on the nature of love and relationships. This is what I imagine heaven looks like for people who own multiple turtlenecks and first-edition books. 

But as great as that all is, their lives together have not been without stress. Jesse getting with Celine came at the expense of his first marriage, and an acrimonious divorce and custody battle means he doesn’t get to see his now adolescent son Henry nearly as much as he would like. Also, with becoming a mom, Celine has had to put the brakes on her career as an environmentalist to instead support her family. She receives a job offer she’s excited about but feels like Jesse wants her to turn it down and instead move to the states to be closer to Henry. These long-simmering resentments come to a head for the two during what’s supposed to be a rare romantic night without the kids. 

Travel + Leisure magazine named this waterfront patio as “one of the most beautiful places in Europe to almost end your marriage.”

As a mother in her early 40s who is married (also nine years!), Jesse and Celine’s big blowout is very relatable, which makes it both easier and harder for me to experience as a viewer.  On one hand, you see this honestly pretty happy couple getting themselves worked up into a lather as they contend with some genuinely upsetting, not easily solvable issues. On the other, it’s always upsetting to see two people pressing each other’s buttons the way only two people who know each other very well can. Celine’s catastrophic thinking and Jesse’s dismissive humor play right into each other and blow things up. 

But even at the darkest, most blustery moments of their dust-up, I still have quite a bit of hope for their relationship, in part because they are even bothering to have this argument out. These are clearly two people with a lot of love and passion for each other who are facing some challenges in their life together. If there’s ever another installment in the series, I have a good feeling we will find Celine and Jesse getting their steps in together somewhere else in Europe.

After Midnight Rankings


  1. Before Sunset
  2. Before Midnight
  3. Before Sunrise

All three installments of this trilogy are about the same quality of excellent so it’s tough to split hairs. Before Sunset is the best IMO because it has the tightest structure and it manages a neat trick of taking place in real-time. It also feels like the most nonchalant of the movies. Before Midnight has my second place because it manages another difficult task of incorporating other characters into the conversations as well as being the only installment where Celine and Jesse ACTUALLY know each other. Before Sunrise gets last place just by default, but it’s still an incredible film. This is easily the best franchise I’ve done on my website but don’t get used to it cause the five Air Bud movies are next.

  1. Before Sunset
  2. Before Sunrise
  3. Before Midnight

Ranking these movies was actually pretty difficult because they’re not only all so good but also the series builds on itself, making points about the nature of love and romance in both the long and short term. But if I must choose a favorite, it’s Before Sunset for having the same level of sexual charge of Before Sunrise (if not slightly more), plus the excitement of their reunion and rediscovery. Also to Before Sunset’s credit, it makes me want to go back to Paris, which is amazing because I hate Paris. The last time I visited I lost my passport and in order to get it back, I had to go to the U.S. embassy where a man pointed a gun at me. Also, my husband and I were served an unsliced pizza there, which is always a harbinger of doom. 

Thanks again Michael for inviting me to talk about this excellent series of films. I can’t wait to come back sometime and tell you why the Karate Kid movies are about the dangers of unresolved trauma or how Back to the Future films are not so secretly about the importance of good urban planning.

Other Franchise Reviews

Franchise with Me: The Hannibal Lecter Movies w/ Shawn Collins

Franchise with Me: Wild Things w/ Michael Palladino

Franchise with Me: Jurassic Park/World/Puppets w/ Ben V.

Franchise with Me: Dark Castle Entertainment w/ Danny Gurrola

Franchise with Me: Child’s Play w/ Michael Palladino

Franchise with Me: The Kissing Booth w/ Ben V.

Franchise with Me: Jaws w/ Danny Gurrola

Franchise with Me: Rocky w/ Michael Palladino

Franchise with Me: Leprechaun w/ Ben V.

Franchise with Me: Step Up w/ Audrey Farnsworth

Franchise with Me: Home Alone w/ Ty and Ella Turdsby

Franchise with Me: Tremors w/ Michael Kohn

Also with Genevieve

Top 10 Thanksgiving Movies w/ Genevieve Rice

Top 10 New Year’s Eve Movies w/ Genevieve Rice

Top 5 Valentine’s Day Movies w/ Genevieve Rice

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