I’ve written somewhere on this blog that I loved both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The final movie in the trilogy, Before Midnight, opened about a week or so ago in Singapore and damn if Richard Linklater (director), Julie Delpy (who plays Celine and shares screenwriting credits) and Ethan Hawke (who plays Jesse and shares screenwriting credits) did not deliver!
As a friend said, “Shit got real, yo!” and did it ever! As far as I am concerned, the last of the trilogy was the best movie of the three. While the first dealt with the idea of finding your one true love when you least expect it — and really, meeting and falling in love with someone on a train ride to Vienna and exploring the city afterwards is as romantically unexpected as it can get — and the second dealt with second chances, posing a question many of us have been wondering (“If The One that Got Away ever came back into your life, what would you do — take up where you left off or leave well enough alone?”), the third was all about finding out what happened “after” happily ever after. It strives to answer the questions most romantic fairy tales leave out. What happens after the big romantic end?
Life happens, that’s what. In the third film, we find Jesse and Celine, nine years on from the ending of Before Sunset. Jesse stayed with Celine in Paris, missing his plane ride back to his wife and infant son. In the intervening years, he’s become a moderately famous writer, with two novels about his relationship with Celine, the first chronicling their night in the first film and the second about finding Celine a decade after they met (how meta!). They now have cute blonde twin girls and Jesse’s son from his first wife, visits his dad and “stepmom” during vacations. It’s about as happily ever after as it gets.
Then again, it’s not. The movie is set in Greece, where Jesse and Celine have been vacationing with their young family. It opens with Jesse saying goodbye to his firstborn at the airport; the kid is on his way home to his mother. The leavetaking makes Jesse reassess the choices he’s made. While he’s happy with the life he’s made with Celine, he does feel guilty about leaving his son — he left the boy and his mom for Celine, after all. Celine, meanwhile, is struggling with balancing being partner, mother and having a successful career. It’s a genius move on the creative team to set the action on vacation, when the characters are out of their daily lives and in a strange milieu, because it brought into sharp focus the issues that have been boiling under the surface between the two protagonists.
And when the issues do surface, they bubble up in a big way! For me, the main delight — or conceit, if you will — of these movies is that they’re all talk, with hardly any “action.” (When we watched the movie, two viewers left before it even got to the middle, probably put off by all the talking!) The film unfolds almost like a novel, with the actions largely dictated by what the characters say to each other — so of course, everything is biased. We do not get an omnipresent narrator or “eye” to tell us what happened. The characters themselves tell us.
And so what happens? Jesse, guilty that his son is growing up without a father, broaches the subject of moving back to the States to be nearer to his kid, a move that he feels is not at all unreasonable. Celine, on the other hand, feels that uprooting the whole family, not to mention putting her career on hold, just as it’s taking off was one sacrifice too many that she’s made for Jesse. The standoff escalates into the mother of all fights, with recriminations and accusations hurled back and forth, raw and startingly real — and funny! It was a fight I imagine real couples make, when little resentments which have been overlooked before, come bubbling to the surface. It actually reminded me of a fight my mom and dad had once. It was a typical weekend afternoon. I must have been around 13 or 14 years old. My siblings and I were in the living room. My brothers were playing with toys, the TV was on, but no one was very interested in what was being shown. I was reading, with half my attention on the TV. In the upstairs master bedroom, we could hear our parents having a “discussion.” I remember though that we kids didn’t really pay much attention to them. To us, it was just part of the symphony of a lazy afternoon. Until my mom appears on the landing and tells us kids below, “Hey, you kids! From now on, no more TV! Your dad doesn’t like the additional expense!” From the bedroom we could hear our dad go, in an exasperated tone of voice, “That is not what I meant!” My mom goes back to the bedroom and the murmurings continue. For us kids, it wasn’t even a big deal and even then, we knew it was silly. Whoever heard of being denied TV?? I was reminded of that while watching Jesse and Celine’s hilarious fight. At times silly then serious, frank, meandering the way real couples bicker, the fight highlights what went off the rails between the two of them. In the end, nothing got resolved. The last scene shows Celine and Jesse making up (sort of), though still in a state of detente as to where their relationship is going. It ends like the previous two movies did, before the protagonists make a momentous decision that could change their lives forever. Will Jesse persuade Celine to give up all and go to the States with him? Will Celine refuse and would they have to separate? As with the first two movies and yes, as in “real life” the story has yet to unfold.
Yahoo! Southeast Asia gave us tickets to go watch the movie and here’s the ensuing discussion after we saw it: Before Midnight movie review.
From Greece, we go to Singapore, the setting for much of Kevin Kwan’s debut novel, Crazy Rich Asians (CRA). Now, I am not much for chick lit, wherein the vapid shallowness of the characters is enough to make me roll my eyes and close the book. Get me a thriller any day! But CRA is not your typical chick lit. Sure the rollicking narrative and riotous action make it the ideal poolside summer read, but this one hits a bit close to home, maybe because as a friend remarked, I can relate. Not that I am a member of the elite, but that I’ve been living in Singapore for almost five years and have a ringside view of the action, so to speak.
The book reads like a primer to Asia’s (read: mostly Singapore, which is said to have the highest concentration of millionaires) super-elite, whose spending patterns, lavish lifestyles, and preoccupation with wealth and status are chronicled in the novel. It’s like Downton Abbey, but for Asians and without scenes with the servants — their lives are not relevant in this story, haha…
CRA tracks the story of Nick Young, who was born and raised in Singapore but educated abroad and his girlfriend, Rachel, an American-Chinese. Because his best friend is getting married, Nick invites Rachel home with him to Singapore, so she gets to experience his homeland and meet the family. What Rachel doesn’t know — because Nick didn’t so much as drop hints during their two-year relationship — is that Nick is the scion of one of the oldest, richest and most powerful families in Singapore. So old, rich and powerful in fact, that ordinary Singaporeans have never heard of them! And so begins Rachel’s — and the readers’ — introduction into Singapore — as well as Hong Kong and Shanghai — high society, where buying a hotel is as easy as placing a call to the owner and jets come with their own yoga studios. Crazy rich Asians? Well, the ones in this book are crazy rich indeed! As one friend puts it, “I got dizzy at all the brand names mentioned!”
Upon arriving in Singapore, Rachel soon gets an inkling of Nick’s status when she meets the family for the first time at the sprawling estate of Nick’s grandmother, the family matriarch. Soon, she’s entangled in prejudices, alliances and vicious gossip, not just among family members but by envious socialites out to discredit her… There are also subplots involving Nick’s cousin, Astrid, who buys up whole haute couture wardrobes without batting a well-mascara’d eyelash, her husband Michael, who manages a startup IT company and wants to live within their means; Nick’s best friend Colin and his fiancee Araminta; Rachel’s college best friend, whose family’s wealth is in real estate and is so new, it doesn’t count; Nick’s formidable mother Eleanor and various aunts and uncles all jockeying for status and position.
To the uninitiated, Kevin Kwan, who is born and bred in Singapore, provides footnotes that explains Asian customs, terms and are a cheeky Greek chorus-type commentary to what is happening in the story. It’s a mad, mad, madcap world of the super-rich and it’s all the more enjoyable because of it. Next time you need a light change of pace, pick up this book and marvel at how the other half — the crazy, crass and cash-rich of this world — lives.