Attractive people can fight, too!
In the mid-70’s, Roland (Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Angelina Jolie) are a married couple who are in desperate need of some loving and alone time. That’s why they set out to vacation in France, where hopefully Vanessa will not only be healed of whatever pain she’s feeling, whereas Roland where also get a chance to write his next book and make more of a name for himself. However, because they’re so broken and screwed-up, for reasons unknown, the trip has become nothing more than just another opportunity for them to bet on each other’s nerves. Though Roland seems to be trying to reconcile more than Vanessa, neither are able to fully come together in a way that reminds them both why they love each other so much in the first place, let alone, why they should stay married. Then, surprisingly, a young couple gets the room right next door to them which, coincidentally, has a hole through the wall that can be seen through Roland and Vanessa’s room. Through this young couple, both Roland and Vanessa will connect with each other in ways they haven’t do so in quite some time, but by the same token, will also still bring out old skeletons.
It’s hard not to watch By the Sea as a total vanity-piece from Angelina Jolie Pitt (and yes, that is now her name). Not only is the film written and directed by her, but it also stars her working opposite from her famous husband, in which they play a married couple who are, at times, loving, but at the same time, also fighting and pissing one another off a whole lot, too. So, in a way, you could definitely look at this film as some sort of statement that Jolie wants to not just make about marriage in general, but her own, pretty infamous marriage.
Does it work as such? Not really. But hey, at least she’s getting somewhere.
Perhaps what works best about By the Sea is how pretty it looks. Despite Jolie actually having set the film in the 70’s, it’s still clear to see that Jolie herself is taking a lot of inspiration from the look and feel of the same kinds of Paris expressionist films of the day. And because of that, there’s plenty of shots here that are not only glossy, but quite eye-catching; while the characters themselves may be a bit boring and tepid, the landscapes they’re walking around, aren’t and it’s hard to look away whenever the movie takes place outside, in some lush room, or focusing in on the fancy clothes that just about every character here seems to be wearing. Basically, it’s a very pretty movie.
But that said, beauty is perhaps the only thing that By the Sea has working for it. With Unbroken last year, Jolie showed that she was a fine director, however, not a very deep or meaningful one; while she knows how to frame a shot here and there, what’s going on within or underneath said shot, she doesn’t seem to quite have a grip on just yet. Here, it seems like that same problem still persists, although she’s definitely helped out by the fact that her, as well as Pitt, both seem like they’re more than willing to dig hard into these characters, even if, on the surface, there’s not much to them.
But even once you go further into these characters, there’s still not much else to them.
The general idea of Roland and Vanessa is that, you guessed it, some sort of travesty hit their lives and they haven’t been the same since. While it’s easy to predict what it is from the very start, Jolie likes to give off the idea that she’s throwing us all off by giving us small, brief hints every now and then – issue is, it’s obvious. I won’t say what it is, but yeah, just take a wild guess and you’ll probably hit the nail on the head.
However, while other films concerning the same kinds of characters would like to develop them beyond just what happened to them, Jolie only seems interested in that and not going anywhere else. Sure, it’s interesting to watch when Pitt and Jolie, who are generally considered to be a loving, passionate and happy couple, fight and bicker with one another; sometimes, you don’t know how far it’s going to go, or where it’s going to end-up. Their own performances are fine, but when they’re together, it’s nice to not only see them share some chemistry when they’re happy together, but also when they are at each other’s necks.
You know, like real couples.
Still though, Jolie’s direction is so languid that it feels like every scene depicting these two arguing, or screwing, or kissing, or consoling one another, isn’t just a repeat, but is lacking any sort of emotion that’s supposed to make a film like this, with these kinds of actors, crackle and pop right off the screen. It also doesn’t help that By the Sea is close to being two hours which, in all honesty, it does not need to be; something tells me that there was probably an ideal hour-and-a-half-version set to be made, but because the studio will never say “no” to her, Jolie got her way anyway and was able to make the movie as long as she oh so pleased. Which isn’t to say that I’m able to push Jolie’s personal persona, away from her film one, but like I stated before, it’s very difficult to not look at this film and think, “Well guys, this is what Angelina thinks about marriage, or lust, or whatever.”
And honestly, I don’t want it to seem like By the Sea is an awful movie. What works best about it is that Pitt and Jolie are such talented actors, that they make just about every scene work. Jolie’s script is clunky and filled with quite a few eye-rolling moments, but the two genuinely seem interested and compelled to work with one another, which definitely plays-out onto the screen. It may have not played out onto the rest of the film, but hey, at least they’re hot, sexy, in love, and not caring who knows it!
You go, kids!
Consensus: In By the Sea, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt fight, argue, kiss, screw, smoke, drink, wear fancy clothes, eat nice dinners, speak French, creep on their neighbors, and get naked, but for some reason, none of it ever cracks as much as it should, despite Jolie’s best intentions to try and do so.
5 / 10