By The Sea (R) ★★½

Angelina Jolie-Pitt and Brad Pitt star in "By The Sea." Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
Angelina Jolie-Pitt and Brad Pitt star in “By The Sea.” Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Don’t (Always) Judge A Film By Its Trailer

It’s been a decade since the last on-screen Pitt partnership in Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005). The real-life power couple’s latest venture, By The Sea, takes on a completely different tone.

The setting is the mid-1970’s in the French Riviera. Former dancer, Vanessa (Angelina Jolie-Pitt, Maleficent, 2014), and her writer husband Roland (Brad Pitt, The Big Short, 2015), travel the country together. Any onlooker would agree that this American couple seems to have it all – the looks and lavish lifestyle. Upon further examination, however, it’s more like the opposite. After 14 years, they seem to be growing apart. When they decide to book an extended stay in a quiet, quaint, seaside town, they notice themselves growing closer to the more lively newlyweds next door.

Angelina Jolie-Pitt (first time billed with this name) tries a hand at directing, writing and starring in this romantic drama and definitely doesn’t hold back when it comes to the couple’s entrance. The beginning of the film pans through the stunning Mediterranean countryside and soon catches up to the small, silver convertible with Roland behind the wheel and Vanessa at his side. Both of them don hats – him a porkpie and her in a large brimmed sun hat coupled with large-lensed sunglasses – these, of course, don’t move a muscle despite the sea breeze against their faces. Their arrival was so picturesque it might as well have been a behind-the-scenes clip from a Vogue shoot. Perhaps this picture-perfect set up was a juxtapose for what was ahead. 

By the Sea is raw, emotional, honest and cryptic at the same time. Both Pitt’s undoubtedly provide superb performances, and it’s interesting to see them in their weakest moments because one automatically wonders how they feud in real life. The film contains painfully long sequences. After these first few sequences, audiences expect there to be an ‘ah-ha’ moment, but the mystery drags on…and on. Why does Vanessa hate the world? What wedged them apart to the point that she can’t be consoled by him, or even near him in most cases? Vanessa’s narrative is very light considering she barely speaks, which could get annoying for some. Speaking of the script, it is the main component that weighs down the film, which can’t be saved by the backdrop or acting. Jolie-Pitt certainly had a specific mindset when she wrote this film, but the script takes too long to reveal any reasoning as to why this is all happening, or if there’s any hope that she/they will be happy again. Let’s just say, it’s the opposite of uplifting.

The pace finally picks up a bit once a young newlywed couple checks in next door – Lea (Mélanie Laurent, Aloft, 2014) and François (Melvil Poupaud, Face Down, 2015). They are very much in love and aren’t afraid to show it. They remind Vanessa of how her marriage used to be and her jealousy quickly drives her into crazy mode. While leaning back on a chair one afternoon, she spots a hole in the wall situated between their rooms. Vanessa is overcome with curiosity and makes it a daily (obsessive) ritual to observe them and she doesn’t shy away no matter how passionate things get. After both Vanessa and Roland confess to spying through the peep-hole, they start to spy together, over drinks, even dinner. This newfound entertainment sparks a voyeuristic game where they playfully manipulate Lea and Francois to see how things later play out in the bedroom.

All indoor scenes mainly consist of bottles of booze and pills along with Roland’s red typewriter. Even though Roland is here to write, he ends up spending most of his days at the local bar, so Vanessa has time to herself…to lounge around the hotel room. Her 70’s style makeup – long lashes and thick cat eyeliner – look perfect in nearly every scene, even when she’s bawling (which is more often than not). She has just the right number of mascara tears streaming down her face.

The film’s location was the rocky coast of Gozo, an island off Malta with a population of 31,000. Local authorities hope that this film will boost tourism in the area and create more jobs.

Bottom-Line? From the breathtaking scenery, beautiful clothing, perfectly paired music and attractive cast, By The Sea, looks flawless. Don’t judge this film by its trailer, however. Despite the striking visuals, this dark romantic drama struggles to hold audiences’ attention and interest, just as Roland (Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Angelina Jolie-Pitt) struggle to hold their marriage together in this film.

Cast: Brad Pitt (Roland), Angelina Jolie-Pitt (Vanessa), Melanie Laurent (Lea), Melvil Poupaud (François)

Credits: Directed and written by Angelina Jolie-Pitt

Studio: Universal Pictures

Run Time: 122 minutes

Jessica Aymond © December 26, 2015