“What a waste of a good holiday”, exclaimed the woman seated next to me as the credits rolled. And she’s not wrong – there’s plenty of things I’d do in France if I was given the chance. I would swim every single day. I’d go for walks in the beautiful countryside. I’d drink every bar dry. But, such fun seems to be lost on the couple that inhabits Angelina Jolie Pitt’s new film, By The Sea. Starring Jolie Pitt and husband Brad Pitt, By The Sea is an egotistical melodrama that offers a glimpse into the life of a troubled American couple on a holiday that, quite frankly, makes you want to go back to work.
Pitt plays Roland, a failed novelist who desperately wants to fix his marriage. On the other end of the spectrum is Vanessa, who is played by Jolie; Vanessa is a disturbed woman who struggles to muster one sentence at a time, grunting her way through the 132 minutes. The couple takes a holiday to coastal France in an attempt to save the marriage that no one really wants to save.
Jolie’s influence on the film is painfully obvious; many of the scenes serve simply to paint a picturesque image of Jolie herself without implementing any real narrative. As Vanessa gloomily struts around in Vogue inspired outfits, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell whether we’re watching a character play out before us, or if the scenes we’re seeing are simply a disgruntled Jolie. As if the film couldn’t get even more vain, every sequence seems to focus on how beautiful Vanessa is, despite being the personification of beige. As we reach the gruelling two hour mark, and underwhelming reveal is made – Vanessa is like this because she is barren. This big reveal could have given the character a bit of complexity, but instead it serves as a glorification of the archetypal weak woman. Through this, Jolie creates a caricature of what depression is, likening herself to Lana del Rey, whose role is only to be sad and glamorous. Being barren does not make this woman empty – the lazy characterisation does.
I’ll admit – I’m not the biggest Jolie fan (as you could probably tell). But I’ve adored Brad Pitt since I saw him making soap in Fight Club way back when. If there was something to save this film from drowning in its own narcissism then it would be him, surely? But it seems that just like Roland, Pitt is being suffocated by the shadow of his wife. Despite both being established actors, the film holds true to the proposition that to write, direct and star in your own film is, more often than not, a complete disaster.
Despite claiming that the film has zero resemblance to their off-screen relationship, Pitt seems to succumb to a character that doesn’t push his acting extremes too far – in fact, this film seems like a regression of his talent. Roland speaks French occasionally, has a sculpted moustache, likes to drink whiskey, and gets irritated by his wife – that’s the extent to which Pitt’s performance differs from his real-life persona (though, he may like whiskey – who am I to judge?). What we are then presented with is a gruelling semi-autobiographical tale about solving the perceived problems of a couple who actually don’t really have any problems. To sum up the aforementioned woman in the theatre: “it was hilarious – but I don’t think it was meant to be.”
Review Score: ONE STAR (OUT OF FIVE)
By The Sea is in cinemas now.