The opening scene wouldn’t be amiss among a stack of European postcards. A couple, decked out in their finest, is driving through the Mediterranean countryside with no destination in mind. When they stop at an idyllic seaside spot, they are nearly speechless. There’s no warmth between them, only tense air. Meet the stars of “By the Sea,” real life love birds Angelina Jolie-Pitt and Brad Pitt.
Trouble follows the unhappy pair in their picturesque getaway. Vanessa (Jolie-Pitt) is a former dancer forced off the stage because of her age. Her husband Roland (Pitt) is a scruffy writer with a drinking problem and crippling writer’s block. They have come to find healing far away from home, but instead only find more pain in Southern France. Vanessa becomes enamored by the couple next door, and alternates from trusting her husband to wanting to pursue the newly wedded man in the room over.
“By the Sea” has the intention to pay tribute to the European mid-life crisis movie where rich folks stumble through the world, grasping for meaning that seems so easy to everyone else around them. It’s difficult not to think of the real life couple behind the battling spouses. Did they go through a similar hard time? Were there problems in the marriage from Jolie-Pitt’s health scare? The movie couple’s spats draw heavily from “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” Which incidentally, the 1966 film version also starred a then-married Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
— By the Sea (@ByTheSeaMovie) November 11, 2015
Jolie-Pitt’s screenplay leaves much to be desired as its characters languish under the coastal sun. Its dialog is stilted, which doesn’t help its watery concept to keep the biggest piece of information hidden from its audience in plain sight. Until her character confirms what we might have guessed half an hour in, the audience is forced to wait around for the characters to talk about what they don’t want to talk about. That can turn into a very long two hour runtime.
It’s strange to feel conflicted about “By the Sea.” On one hand, it’s a movie about self-destructive rich people who make others around them miserable. Yet, it is one of the few movies to come out of a major studio that isn’t tied to a franchise but rather a personal exploration of loss and trauma. The real heartbreak of “By the Sea” is that Angelina Jolie-Pitt didn’t dig further into those themes. The film is clearly influenced by her recent health scares. Why let the wave wash those themes away?
“By the Sea” opens in theaters Nov. 13.