Viewer Guide: Love Affair and Before Midnight

February 14, 2020 | Richard Peña


Love Affair (1994)

This week’s classic is Love Affair, the 1994 romantic drama directed by Glenn Gordon Caron.

Beginning with its retro-style opening credits and cabaret star Bobby Short’s jaunty rendition of a 1920s pop tune, Love Affair seems like a glossy studio picture from an earlier time; that’s because it’s in fact the third incarnation of a classic romance first brought to the screen by Leo McCary in 1939 starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, and then 1957, again by McCary, as An Affair to Remember, this time starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.

This time around, Warren Beatty plays Mike Gambril, a former NFL star quarterback turned sportscaster, whose engagement to TV talk show host Lynn Weaver has all the Hollywood gossip shows buzzing. As a famous playboy, Mike’s busy love life hasn’t exactly made him seem like the marrying kind. Hmm, why does that sound so familiar? Mike finally seems ready to settle down, although since we can see that his eye continues to wander, has he really found the right woman? On a flight to Sydney, Australia, Mike finds himself intrigued with Terry McKay, an aspiring singer played by Beatty’s real-life wife Annette Bening. Being engaged herself, Terry resists Mike’s flirtatious overtures; however, when their plane is forced to make an emergency landing on a tiny Pacific atoll, the two find themselves thrown together on a boisterous Russian cruise ship as they try to make their way back to a functioning commercial airport. While anchored somewhere near Tahiti, the pair happens to finds themselves in the vicinity of Mike’s Aunt Ginny, who lives on a nearby island. Hey, why are you saying that sounds unlikely—it could happen! Played by Katharine Hepburn in her final feature film appearance, Aunt Ginny seems to recognize something about Mike and Terry that they can’t see for themselves. Returning to New York but uncertain how to disentangle themselves from their marital commitments, Mike and Terry make a pledge that’s also a test, agreeing to re-meet three months later—or not, no questions asked. Could this really be the “love affair” that each of them has been waiting for?

Also featured in cameo roles are Garry Shandling as Mike’s agent as well as Kate Capshaw and Pierce Brosnan as Mike and Terry’s respective fiancés.

Following the same general outline of the original 1939 script for Love Affair by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart, the 1994 adaptation does allow for some updating, with Mike and Terry initially encountering each other on a plane rather than an ocean liner. While the character name for Terry has remained the same in all three movie versions, in 1939 Mike’s character was “Michel Marnay,” a nod to the French Charles Boyer, and “Nickie Ferrante” for Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember. With Warren Beatty and Annette Bening becoming hot gossip themselves following their romance after working together on Beatty’s 1991 film BUGSY, the script co-written by Beatty and Robert Towne incorporates Beatty’s famous reputation as a Hollywood ladies man into his character; Carrie Fisher—who memorably appeared with Beatty in the 1975 film Shampoo—was reportedly among the screenplay’s uncredited script doctors. The 1930s star Luise Rainer was also under discussion for the key role of Aunt Ginny, but Beatty supposedly turned on his famous charm to persuade the increasingly reclusive Katharine Hepburn to accept the part. And in an unusual arrangement, it was producer Beatty who actually had final cut on the film and not veteran writer-director Glenn Gordon Caron, a rare privilege only accorded to a select group of Hollywood’s elite.


Before Midnight (2013)

This week’s indie is Before Midnight, a 2013 romantic drama directed by Richard Linklater.

Before Midnight is the third in a trilogy of movies directed by Richard Lanklater that began in 1995 with Before Sunrise, which originates the story of Jesse and Céline, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, college students who first meet on a train to Vienna. When Jesse convinces Céline to hop off the train with him, they spend the night wandering through the city before he catches his flight back to America the next day. As they walk and talk, the duo embarks on a non-stop conversation filled with flirtation, philosophical discussion and personal revelations before parting ways in the morning with the promise to re-connect in six months. That promise went unfulfilled for nine years until 2004, when Linklater resumed the couple’s story in Before Sunset, picking up with the duo in Paris as Jesse is on a book tour to promote his best-selling novel inspired by their night in Vienna, setting the stage for an unexpected reunion.

In tonight’s film Before Midnight, while still not actually married, Jesse and Céline are now a longtime couple and the parents of twin girls, living in Paris but on a summer vacation in Greece. Still a successful novelist, Jesse is on bad terms with his American ex-wife, and increasingly tormented about not playing a larger role in their son’s adolescent life. Feeling both enthralled and overwhelmed by motherhood, Céline is struggling with a decision to accept a new job, all the while harboring a resentment of Jesse’s domination of their life together. Consisting of a series of circuitous conversations, Before Midnight may be low on traditional plot structure, but overflows with authentic insights on contemporary relationships—a modern day “battle of the sexes” that’s equal parts comic, dramatic and contemplative. In a day that begins with a bittersweet farewell and segues into a romantic getaway that boomerangs into a hurtful argument, will Jesse and Céline still be able to patch things up “before midnight” rolls around?

With Before Midnight being the current culmination of three feature films following the same characters played by the same actors over an 18-year span, writer-director Richard Linklater is one of the most prominent auteurs in a new generation of filmmakers who seem to consider the passage of time as an ally rather than an opponent who must be checked. Rather than resorting to the customary techniques of make-up, hair styling and lighting to either age or rejuvenate an actor—or as we’re now seeing in films like The Irishman, employing CGI effects—Linklater lets Father Time do the job himself, often with years-long pauses between production periods. While it’s true that reality must intrude and not everyone has 20 years to make a movie, Linklater’s “slow cooker” approach received an especially enthusiastic response in 2014 with BOYHOOD, the Oscar-nominated film chronicling a boy’s life that Linklater filmed over a 12-year period. Despite the impression of continuous improvisation that characterizes all three films, the scripts are actually the result of an intricate collaboration between Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Linklater was inspired to write the first script from his own experience meeting a young woman while traveling from New York to Philadelphia in 1989, but who was killed in a motorcycle accident six months before the release of Before Sunrise in 1995, a sad fact that Linklater did not discover until 2010. Among Linklater’s upcoming projects is a movie adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, which tells its story in a reverse chronology and that Linklater plans to shoot over a 20-year period.

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