Review: By the Sea

By Christian DiMartino

“Jesus. Have I become THAT dull?”

Not in a long while has a film quote ironically described itself so well.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are back on the big screen for the first time since Brad Pitt had an affair… I mean, since Mr. and Mrs. Smith in By the Sea, but trust me: if you were waiting for a solid Brangelina project, you have come to the wrong place. By the Sea is nothing but a turgid botch.

It’s a painfully dull film that just lies there like a dead seagull that’s just washed ashore. The shocking thing is that not only did Jolie star in this thing, but she also WROTE IT AND DIRECTED IT. This is her third directorial outing, behind In the Land of Blood and Honey (skipped it) and Unbroken. 

Visually, Jolie has a keen eye, and it helps that she gets such good dp men on board (Unbroken was filmed by Roger Deakins, this one is filmed by Christian Berger). When all else fails (pretty much literally), at least it looks good doing it.

By the Sea follows a couple named Roland and Vanessa (Pitt and Jolie). Vanessa is a former dancer, and Roland is a writer. Both mopey as hell. Trust me, I am under-selling the mopiness here, but there will be more. The two travel to a seaside hotel in France, and they stay there while Roland attempts to write a novel. While he does this, Vanessa mopes… a lot.

Not long after their arrival, another couple (played by Melanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) arrives on the scene, and ends up staying next door to the mopers. When the two of them aren’t moping, they spy on the couple next door through an obvious peephole in the wall. Why? Both out of curiosity, and longing for a better life.

I don’t know if I mentioned this, but By the Sea features a lot of moping. So much, in fact, that one could easily make a By the Sea drinking game, though you’d probably get so bored you’d be tempted to drink yourself to death in a Leaving Las Vegas-style fashion.

Oh oh oh, wait… not only is there moping, but there’s also walking! And, most of the time, there is both WALKING AND MOPING! AH! Riveting stuff Angie, really.

This is a vanity project so vain, the makers probably thought this song was about them. After every take, I just imagined Jolie turning to Pitt and saying, “Gee Brad, aren’t we great?”

It’s a real shame that this film never comes to life, because I could sense art somewhere in here. Somewhere far, far below. But from it’s opening line, “It smells like fish,” I knew this film was open for parody, because I immediately thought of a dirty joke.

This is also a film that is drowned in cliches, and the attempts to sex things up are never really all that sexy. But alas, I think the major problem with By the Sea is that we can’t pity Roland and Vanessa, because they’re never willing to let us in. We know nothing about them for the majority of the runtime, besides the fact that they’re two attractive, seemingly wealthy white people. Oh, what a tragedy.

The reason for their lonely state is eventually revealed, and it’s predictable. I called it from the trailer. So, there’s that.

I am not failing it though, because of its cinematography. Plus, the acting isn’t really that bad whenever Jolie and Pitt get a chance to spread their wings. That doesn’t happen too often, since the script restrains them. But when they do, it is effective. That still doesn’t make up for the waste of Laurent, a great actress who gets to do very little.

I hope I don’t make an enemy out of the Brangelina fanclubs. Believe me, I like Pitt and Jolie. They are two excellent actors, trapped in a very crappy movie. What a shame.

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