Slack time

Before Sunrise is something new from Richard Linklater -- a failure

There's a related lack of grace in the way their talk jumps from topic to topic without allowing the dialogue to flow. It's not artful, or realistic, or anything in between. The dialogue is as shapeless as unkneaded dough, and hearing Hawke and Delpy recite it is like reading an updated twentysomething version of Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The boldly artificial dialogue in Whit Stillman's movies Metropolitan and Barcelona, and in the movies of Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch (and Linklater, until now), expressed two sensibilities at once -- the characters' and the filmmakers'. This time, both characters sound too much like Linklater sounds in interviews, and while Linklater in interviews is funny, charming and sometimes wise, I certainly wouldn't call him dramatic.

Ultimately, the failure of Before Sunrise is a failure of vision. For all his railing against the brain-dead high-concept tendencies of big-budget Hollywood, Linklater's latest seems part of the problem. When it ended, I still wasn't convinced the filmmaker had gone beyond his initial pitch: "Slacker with two people." The built-in limitation of this phrase is that Slacker with two people would make an interesting 20-minute movie. To get beyond that, you have to offer more than a couple of pretty faces mouthing clunky lines.

There are a few moments that feel fresh and unforced -- a hilarious conversation between the couple and two German-speaking experimental theater performers, a lovely image of the two sweethearts nestled at the base of a fountain -- but they're not enough to redeem the picture. Even Linklater's boldest stroke is undone by the blandness that preceded it: a closing montage of every significant location the characters visited, now empty and nestled in a poignant past. The sequence directly invokes one of the most beloved romantic melodramas in movie history, Fellini's I Vitelloni, and for a few seconds, at least, Beyond Sunrise feels equally affecting -- until you remember there's no reason to be touched by the memory of places where nothing interesting happened.

Before Sunrise.
Directed by Richard Linklater. With Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
Rated R.
100 minutes.

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