6 Reasons ‘Before Sunrise’ Is the Best Romantic Movie of All Time
I’ve had several debates with people about which of Richard Linklater’s three Before films—Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight—is the best. For me, it really depends on where you are in your life. But in my incredibly biased opinion, 1995′s Before Sunrise is clearly the best. It’s an hour and 45 minutes of pure, awkward, unadulterated young love, making it a must-see.
The movie starts with a classic (but not unrealistic) meet-cute. American college kid Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is on his way to Vienna, Austria to fly back to the States after his trip to visit his now-ex girlfriend in Madrid goes awry. French Celine (Julie Delpy) is heading to France to see her grandmother. After Jesse spots Celine on their shared train car, the two strike up conversation—and it’s not long before he’s convinced her to hop off with him and spend the day roaming around a city that’s new and foreign to them both. But their time together is limited, as Jesse’s flight is slated to take off early the next morning.
SO. Now that you know what Before Sunrise is about, I’m going to tell you why it’s the best romantic comedy—and my favorite film—of all time. OF. ALL. TIME.
A lot of romantic comedies are based on plots that are either outlandish or extremely specific. There’s some ridiculous meet-cute involving opposites that attract, or someone from your past reemerges as a born-again babe.
Even though most people probably haven’t experienced the type of random connection found between Jesse and Celine, there’s really nothing standing in the way from it happening to them, too, except for their own anxieties. Nothing crazy happens to inspire Jesse to approach Celine on that train—he just does it because he wants to. And who hasn’t fantasized about hitting it off with a cute stranger? In Before Sunrise, we see what might happen when one actually does.
There’s also something to be said about the urgency the movie’s plot contains. Jesse and Celine have only a finite amount of time together before they must part, which is something anyone who’s ever experienced an intense yet brief relationship—or even had to say goodbye to a loved one at the departure gate—can relate to.
In Before Sunrise Jesse and Celine carry the entire movie. As they wander around Vienna, they meet quirky bit characters who add excitement to their stroll and interest to the story as a whole—a drunk poet, a money-hungry fortune teller, some local actors—but there are no kooky sidekicks, wingmen, or disapproving family members in sight.
This stripped-down aspect gives you more personal time with the new couple, and insight into who they actually are as people. They’re young, insecure, sweet, awkward, and sometimes annoying assholes. But they come off as actually people—not caricatures written to be entertaining.
The openness and vulnerability of Jesse and Celine leads to what might be one of the most uncomfortably genuine and adorable moments in rom-com history: J and C are sitting in a restaurant when C announces that she’s going to call her friend in Paris to cancel some plans they were scheduled to have the following day. But since most people didn’t have cell phones in the early-to-mid nineties, the call is fictional, with Jesse filling in on the other end—and the conversation quickly turns to the twosome revealing their true feeling, both good and bad, about each other. SO CUTE.
It’s romantic without being cringeworthy.
OK, there are some moments that are a little cringeworthy—but only because they’re so real. That part when they’re standing a bit too close together in the listening booth in a record store? It’s awkward, but in a way that we’ve all felt with a crush, or even a person we’re not so sure about.
And when Jesse immediately asks Celine to recount her “first sexual feelings” when they get on a tram together. Who hasn’t come across one of those completely immature guys who turns out to be a total sweetheart?
Of course, Linklater’s trademark conversational style is a huge part of what keeps the stereotypical gag-fest quips at bay. His characters fumble their words, talk over each other, and at times, don’t speak at all. Their rapport is like that of real people, getting to know one another in real time. And yeah, sometimes we may roll our eyes at it—but you know that in that scenario, you’d be saying the same cheesy stuff.
It’s so nineties (but not dated).
Even though the overall themes in Before Sunrise are still 100 percent relevant, there are certain aspects that are sure to make any throwback lover’s heart sing. First of all, there are no cell phones (or social networks) to speak of. So when Jesse and Celine’s time together inevitably comes to an end, there’s a good chance they really won’t see each other again. Remember life before email, Facebook, Skype, and WhatsApp? There was a lot more uncertainty—and that’s part of what makes this movie so magical.
And of course, there’s the fashion. Celine spends the day wearing the world’s most quintessentially grunge-lite nineties outfit: A spaghetti-strap slip dress over a baby tee with a plaid flannel shirt tied around her waist. And Jesse—still sporting Ethan Hawke’s floppy Reality Bites ‘do and goatee—gets by in a leather jacket, medium-rinse jeans, and some classic Chuck Taylors. Somehow, 20 years later, their style is just as relevant.
Before Sunrise is all about spontaneity: taking chances, and surrendering yourself to the moment. There’s nothing like exploring a city that’s completely new and foreign to you; the act in itself is practically guaranteed to make you incredible memories, whether or not you end up meeting the potential love of your life in the process.
Again, one of the coolest things about Before Sunrise is the idea that the central romance could happen to anyone. And if that’s not enough to make you want to hop on a plane or train to somewhere you’ve never been before, I’m not sure what will.
And if traveling abroad alone isn’t quite your thing, it might just inspire you to be a little more outgoing the next time you find yourself intrigued by someone you’ve never met before.
And I’m not just talking about Hawke and Delpy, though they’ve clearly got good genes on their side. Vienna (to my knowledge, anyway) isn’t a city we often see popping up in the movies, but in Before Sunrise, it provides a stunning, almost old-world backdrop for the young people discovering it and each other.
They kiss atop the Wiener Riesenrad (Vienna’s giant ferris wheel), stroll along the Donaukanal, get deep in the Cemetery of the Nameless, walk past the double spired Votive Church, and make their way through several picturesque squares. Vienna may not have always been on your must-see travel list, but after seeing Before Sunshine, you’ll no doubt be adding it to the top.
Because I said so.
…and that means everything, right? It’s only $2.99 on both iTunes and Amazon (though sadly it isn’t streaming on Netflix at the moment), so if you can afford to buy a bag of chips, you’ve got no excuse. Watch it with your friend, your S.O., or alone—if you really want to take it all in (which you should!).
Best of all? If you, too, find yourself falling in love with Celine and Jesse, they’ve got two more movies dedicated entirely to their romance. Now get on with it!