Valentine's Day has come and gone, but that doesn't mean we have to stop packaging love into its component parts (flowers, bow-wielding naked babies, the soul-scorching agony of abandonment) and selling them to people desperate to prove the heartfelt sincerity of their affections
And what better way to do that than by participating in ritualized cultural gestures? Or possibly by letting Hollywood express your feelings for you? If you're looking to melt his or her heart into heart-butter, might I recommend 1995's Before Sunrise.
On his last day in Europe, Ethan Hawke meets French student Julie Delpy on a train. They hit it off immediately. When he reaches his stop in Vienna, he convinces her to stay with him until his flight in the morning -- but by then, neither of them may want to leave.
There you go. There's the plot. That's all that happens.
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A day in the life of Immobile Cornelius is more eventful than Before Sunrise. At least Cornelius has bed sores.
Yet Before Sunrise is pretty dang charming. Written by Kim Krizan and Richard Linklater, who also directed, it's simple and deeply realistic. As Hawke and Delpy fall for each other, they don't resort to any high-concept romantic comedy nonsense. This isn't The Boy with Three Kinds of Cancer Meets the Girl with the Talking Genitals.
Instead, they go to a record store. They play some pinball. They buy a bottle of wine and lie around in a park. And mostly, they talk.
Like many of Linklater's films, their talk is free-flowing and often philosophical. Hawke's a cynic with spikes of romanticism; Delpy's the opposite. But there's enough common ground that when they disagree, it's with a sense of fun, a challenge to overcome together rather than to conquer each other. (This was the part I found least realistic. Where were the clubs? The muzzles and megaphones? Surely I'm not the only one.)
Much like the mightiest dinosaur will crumble if you replace its bones with live jellyfish, strong dialogue can be killed by weak performances. What's everyone think of Ethan Hawke these days? As little as you can? Well, he's great here, funny and vulnerable. Delpy's just as powerful. They'll convince you it's possible to fall in love in a single day.
In that day, Linklater somehow spans an entire relationship: infatuation, connection, recognizing your partner's flaws, uncertainty for the future. It's like he's cheering them on despite the long odds of a long-distance thing. Before Sunrise is the kind of movie that makes couples want to talk about how they first met.
* Contact Ed Robertson at email@example.com