BY THE SEA must have seemed like the proverbial “good idea at the time” to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. She wrote and directed it. Starring together, they essentially filmed it on their honeymoon, having finally married after 10 years together, which started on the only other movie they made together, the 2004 hit Mr. and Mrs. Smith. They shared credit producing it, the $10,000,000 cost obviously forgoing their usual commanded salaries. Filming was done in Malta, on the island of Gozo. Released in 2015 to mostly scathing reviews, it made but $538,460 in the States, another $2,766,467 internationally. The following year she filed for divorce. That star-break still hasn’t reached finality as of the Spring of 2021. Their movie, which runs 122 minutes, requires almost as much patience from the audience as that displayed by their legal teams, without the satisfaction of a payoff. Can you sue them? Surely there are lawyers out there who would take your case, citing “irreconcilable waste of time.”
The story pits the Pitt’s in a pity party best described as, yes, pitiful. In the late 1960’s (early 70’s?: doesn’t matter & you won’t care) ‘Roland’ (Brad) and ‘Vanessa’ (Angie) take an extended stay at a seaside hotel in southern France, hoping to repair their disintegrating marriage. When a happy newlywed couple (Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) take the neighboring room, the depressed veterans become voyeurs to the frisky business next door thanks to a small hole in the wall. Ultimately, all will be revealed.
Getting there is the problem, as scene after crawl by with an inconsolable Vanessa doing a lot of staring (out to sea), languishing in designer pain, while Roland, a writer struggling to write, spends a lot of his frustrated time drinking at the local café run by old ‘Michel’ (Niels Astrip), who resigned to his own misery.
Seeking to emulate the ennui studies portrayed in Euro art house flicks of the 60s and do a study of grief, Jolie’s lifeless script undercuts her capable direction. See it with your partner when trying to decide whether to stay together yourselves: this will ensure you break up. Stray moments of professionally employed emoting and Christian Berger’s lush cinematography can’t save it from a slow death. The most interesting character—the only one—is a 1967 Citroën DS Chapon convertible.
Best exchange—ROLAND: “You resist happiness.” VANESSA: “Don’t quote some book and try to analyze my life.” ROLAND: “You don’t resist happiness?” VANESSA: “Are you trying to illustrate your point by making me unhappy?”