Magazine article Variety

By the Sea

Magazine article Variety

By the Sea

Article excerpt

FILM REVIEW

By the Sea

DIRECTOR: Angelina Jolie Pitt

STARRING: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt

Retreating from wartime horrors ("Unbroken," "In the Land of Blood and Honey") to explore the less perilous minefield of a troubled marriage, Angelina Jolie Pitt pulls off a halfway compelling trick with "By the Sea," an unabashed vanity project that struggles to turn its own beautiful inertia into a virtue. Drenched in so many photogenic shades of cream, tan and khaki that it might as well have been titled "Beige Valentine," this glossy Euro-modernist-art-film throwback casts the writer-director and her husband, Brad Pitt, as a gorgeously unhappy 1970s American couple seeking to escape their demons during an extended stay on the Maltese coast. Meandering and overlong in ways that will test the patience of even die-hard Brangelina fans, the film ultimately feels too dramatically reductive and obvious to pull off its desired cocktail of Albee and Antonioni, limiting its appeal primarily to those viewers who can get drunk on visual pleasure alone.

Likely to meet with some audience curiosity upon its initial rollout Nov. 13, though not enough to sustain a strong commercial showing, this Universal release reps the first starring vehicle for Pitt and Jolie Pitt in the decade since "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005), the homicidalmarital-therapy comedy that famously set the actors' off-screen relationship in motion. While they wed just last year (prompting the director's change in billing), their fictional alter egos here have already been married 14 years when we first see them speeding through Malta in a top-down convertible.

Taking up residence in a large hotel suite with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, the two settle into an uneasily meandering rhythm that matches the film's own. Roland (Pitt), a novelist, is trying to get over a bad case of writers' block, though he'd get more done if he didn't hole up daily at the local bar, run by a friendly, grizzled proprietor (a fine Niels Arestrup). Vanessa (Jolie Pitt), a former dancer, remains indoors most of the time, occasionally venturing out for a walk. He's tired and sardonic; she's sullen and depressive. The air between them feels charged with unhappiness, for reasons that they don't feel especially inclined to clue us in about.

The levels of narrative and visual interest kick up a slight notch with the arrival of Lea (Melanie Laurent) and Francois (Melvil Poupaud), a honeymooning French couple who offer our protagonists a bittersweet glimpse of their younger, happier selves. …

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