By the Sea
Time Out says
Angelina Jolie’s new film, which she wrote, directed and stars in, co-stars Brad Pitt – maybe you've heard they're a thing. The movie is a downbeat 1970s-set drama about a flatlining marriage and feels designed to annoy viewers who wish Jolie would stick to being sexy and unpredictable. It also ruffles anyone who asks: what do such gorgeous creatures have to be unhappy about? Besides being sexist, that reaction is too bad, because Jolie has evolved into a serious filmmaker and deserves a fair break: By the Sea is a so-so film, but its meandering stretches of decaying glamour make it about ten times more interesting than most Oscar bait.
The story takes place on the gorgeous coast of southern France (although filmed in Malta), where stalled novelist Roland (Pitt) and his scowling wife Vanessa (Jolie) ride silently in their Citröen to a breezy hotel room where most of the movie unfolds. You could call these scenes tourist porn, but that would be missing the fascinating acting: Pitt, playing a ego-bruised alcoholic, increasingly seems to want to crawl under his own scruffy mustache, while Jolie is decked out in huge fake eyelashes and the almost clownish guise of someone desperately trying to still appear young.
They fight a lot, she shuts him down, they try to shower together and, in a redemptive stretch of humour, they both spy through a peephole on the just-married couple next door (Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud), often having sex. Sometimes the tone of By the Sea is closer to an erotic romp like Wild Orchid than Le Mépris, Voyage to Italy or any of the other other high-toned classics Jolie wants to reference, and the shouty climax that reveals the cause of all their pain can be seen from outer space. But this is no vanity project, and Jolie constantly undercuts her tale’s exoticism with real pain. Until more A-listers start directing psychodramas featuring ample French chat, By the Sea is a welcome, if half-successful, tide change.