‘By the Sea’

‘By the Sea’: A scent called Despair

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt pair up for a disappointing exploration of couple-dom

By KOURTNEY PARANTEAU

For the three or four of you who’ve caught yourself thinking, “I wish perfume ads were longer and had more characters,” then Angelina Jolie’s third directorial feature, By The Sea will answer this plea precisely.

As a director, Jolie traffics in big, heaving melodramas (In the Land of Blood and Honey, Unbroken) and By the Sea is no different. While her previous films both deal with war (Bosnian and WW II, respectively) her latest picture narrows its sight on the civil war between a married couple, portrayed by Jolie herself and her actual husband, Brad Pitt.

Set in the mid 1970s, Vanessa (Jolie), an ex-dancer, and Roland (Pitt), a has-been writer, leave their home in New York City and travel to France’s picturesque countryside in hopes of reviving their marriage and Roland’s creativity. Instead, the pair bickers and drinks endlessly. She spends her days in a catatonic state inside their luxury hotel, and he downs gin after gin while facing blank notebooks and closing bars. Midway through their stay, young honeymooners, Lea (Melanie Laurent) and Francoise (Melvil Poupaund), move next door and the couple finally reconnect over a shared voyeurism for their gleeful neighbors. Like last year’s While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach), By the Sea’s leads are captivated by a couple whose youthfulness and idealism they remember and envy.

Angelina wrote, directed and starred in 'By the Sea'

Angelina wrote, directed and starred in ‘By the Sea’

While Jolie sets her sight on other films centered on the unraveling of a marriage (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Faces, Blue Valentine, Before Midnight but most of all, Contempt), she never allows Vanessa and Roland to plummet completely into their own despicableness. She always retrieves them before they’re entirely lost to each other, leaving the movie both without a speck of humor and useless even to its own premise.

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