Monday 23 April 2018

By the Sea review: Brad and Angelina's latest effort is nothing but a vanity project

Angelina Jolie in By the Sea
Angelina Jolie in By the Sea

Chris Wasser

Must we really use the term ‘vanity project’? Probably. Brad and Angie, red-carpet royalty, and the world’s most famous Hollywood couple, back together on screen, a decade after falling for each other in the kooky comedy action get-up, Mr. & Mrs. Smith. That right there should be enough to plant bums on seats.


For crying out loud, Mr. & Mrs. Pitt are all over this project.

Angelina writes, directs, produces and stars in the bloody thing. Her husband is her co-star and co-financier. They shot the film while on honeymoon on the Maltese island of Gozo (but it’s supposed to be France, okay?).

So, what’s wrong with By the Sea? Why is it that the film was largely ignored upon its US release last month? The answer is simple — By the Sea is Revolutionary Road without a proper script; a frightfully leaden and surprisingly inaccessible hotchpotch of ideas that would never have had the backing of a major studio (Universal) were it not for the reputation, wealth and power of its leading talent. It is Angelina Jolie Pitt’s attempt at European arthouse codswallop and nothing — we repeat, nothing — happens in it.

What we have is a two-hour drama set in the 1970s, in which Roland (Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie Pitt) go on holidays in France. They’ve been together for 14 years and all is not well between them. He’s a struggling writer (think Hunter S. Thompson with a better hairline). She used to be a dancer (until she got old, she tells us). They barely talk. An unspoken tragedy lingers in the air. You’ll figure it out for yourself (not that we have any other choice).


Setting up shop in a fancy hotel, she spends her days stretching, tanning, popping pills and staring into the distance. He brings his notebook to the pub and sups beer with the owner, Michel (a wasted Niels Arestrup). The arrival of a newlywed couple piques their interest, and before you know it, Roland and Vanessa are on their knees, peeking through the hole in the wall while the hot young things next door get their freak on. I’d bet you didn’t see that one coming.

Okay, so the plot does eventually go somewhere, and things turn weird, but not even the world’s most peculiar game of ‘I spy’ can save this monotonous, self-indulgent, slow-moving disaster of a film.

Tempers fly and, at one point, Brad slaps himself in the head with Angie’s hand. Our leading man also gets to speak a lot of French (which he’s very good at) while Angie takes up smoking. He usually arrives home drunk; she can’t be arsed to leave the hotel room. In fact, there are times in By the Sea when entire scenes pass us by without either of its stars uttering a single word. Honestly, I forgot what day it was by the time the credits began to roll (somebody actually started snoring at the press screening… it wasn’t me).

Essentially ‘Brangelina on Holidays’, By the Sea certainly looks pretty. There’s lots of gorgeous scenery (I know where I’m going on me holliers next year) and deadly clothes, but very little heart, depth, emotion or passion.

Jolie Pitt clearly put as much work into the tepid script as her husband did growing a moustache, and there are lines in this film that no normal human being would ever get away with in the real world.

But here’s the real kicker — the Pitts cannot act together. Jaysus, the scenes in which these two eventually argue about the real problem in their relationship should really have been re-shot. There’s no chemistry — no spark. Pitt sounds embarrassed — Jolie has rarely looked this vacuous and unrehearsed. They’re both holding back. At one stage, the score threatens to burst into the Bond theme (another unexpected twist).

All we can hear — all we can see, in fact — is bad writing and bad directing. Apparently, it cost $10 million to make (it must have seemed like a good idea at the time). Rarely has so much money been spent on filming two gorgeous actors walking in and out of fancy rooms with a pout on their face.

A dull, uneventful and badly put-together piece, By the Sea is supposed to be a story about grief, love, loss and gin. Instead, it’s a terrible film in which the most famous actors in the world pretend to be mopey.

Yep, it’s a vanity project — at least it’s out of their system. Thanks for the holiday tip, all the same — I’ll award an extra star for that.


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