By the Sea (2015)
R / 122 min.
Drama / Romance
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent
Director: Angelia Jolie
A French seaside resort sounds like the perfect locale for a romantic getaway weekend. The fresh and salty breeze kisses your face as the sound of the waves crashing upon the beach fills your ears. It is relaxing just thinking about it. It sounds a lot better than this damp and foggy day I am currently experiencing. Unfortunately, By the Sea, directed and written by actress-turned-director Angelina Jolie is anything but romantic…or a good movie for that matter.
The film, starring Angelina and her ex-real-life husband Brad Pitt, is a reflective piece on the subject of grief and love. It is a deeply personal film about a couple, Vanessa and Roland (played by Jolie and Pitt), at a crossroads in the relationship who decide to go to a French seaside resort to perhaps sort things out in their marriage. Instead, things seem to take a turn for the weird when they begin to meet some new friends around the town, two of which happen to be a newly-wed couple next door.
What brought me to this movie was the obvious draw of a voyeuristic look into the real-life relationship of Jolie and Pitt. It was no secret that their marriage was hanging on a thread and that things were not all roses and dandelions between the two of them. By the Sea was advertised as a personal art-house piece about a couple going through a rough patch. It does not take a genius to connect the dots and theorize that perhaps the movie is a story about the director’s marriage. Despite these theories, we get nothing of the sort. Instead, we get a rather odd voyeuristic look into the sex life of the couple next door thanks to a hidden peep hole that offers Vanessa a view into their life. Feelings of jealousy and lust begin to creep into her thoughts as she becomes addicted to the peep hole while Roland is off getting drunk at the resort’s bar.
This fascination with the couple next door is certainly something I was not expecting, but it is just too bad the overall plot is boring. The film never managed to grab me like I thought it initially would. It does not help that 75% of the movie is one big moan fest full of self-loathing and blank stares. Everyone just lies around drinking and acting all mopey-dopey. The performances feel lifeless, especially from Jolie and Pitt. The dynamic and chemistry between their two characters is the backbone that the movie relies upon but the two never feel invested in their characters. For a movie so personal it was surprising how detached the two felt from it.
There is one department of the movie that deserves praise and that is its cinematography. Angelina Jolie is a great director who looks to have a future ahead of her that does not solely include acting. She takes a simplistic angle on the film, with some great minimalist shots and a lot of silence. It was at least pleasant to look at, despite the boring travesty that was taking place in the resort. There was also a nice orchestrated musical score that added to the movie as well.
Things only get worse as the movie creeps towards its conclusion, but I never found it in myself to care. By the Sea must have been tough to create given the circumstances of what Jolie and Pitt were going through at the time, so I have to commend them for attempting to put something like this out there in the wild. If you came into this movie looking for an irresistible look into the two’s love life however, then you are going to be madly disappointed. It is quite possible you might self-loath yourself just as much as the characters in the movie.