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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Movie Review - By the Sea

By the Sea (2015)
Starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud, Richard Bohringer, and Niels Arestrup
Directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt

Due to circumstances not involved with the film, I had to stop watching By the Sea at just about an hour and fifteen minutes into my first viewing.  Upon returning to the film a mere few hours later, I had to re-find where I had stopped.  For the life of me, I couldn't.  Why is that?  Because By the Sea is essentially two hours of the same scenes over and over and over again - a mopey couple sitting around a luxurious French seaside hotel (either together or alone) pontificating about why their relationship went south and what they can do to make it better, whether that be attempting to connect with one another sexually or watching another younger couple connect sexually through a peephole.  Stagnant in its drama and overly repetitive, By the Sea is an interesting departure from Angelina Jolie's previous directorial feature Unbroken, but it's unsuccessful in its attempt to mimic some classic 1970s relationship dramas.

Jolie and her real-life husband Brad Pitt are Vanessa and Roland, a couple married for fourteen years who find themselves in obviously troubled relationship times.  Roland is a writer who is finding himself blocked so he decides to take a journey to a quaint, tiny French seaside town.  Upon arrival, Vanessa is distant, detached, emotionless and, quite frankly, a bit of a dramatic ice queen.  Inferences are made to something having happened in their past that has led to the emotional chasm that affects them now and while Roland hopes that this trip will help them reconnect, he finds himself met with reticence from Vanessa.  While Roland works in a local bar, Vanessa mopes around the hotel room where she discovers a circular peephole that peeks into the adjacent room where she watches the lives unfold of recently married and honeymooning couple Lea and François (Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) whose lust for life stand in sharp contrast to her obvious depression.

I was along for the slow ride of By the Sea for nearly its first hour.  Sure, it had a meandering pace, but I was particularly interested and surprisingly invested in Brad Pitt's writer character and his struggle to get his wife out of her emotional funk.  However, as the film's second half came into focus, By the Sea felt like a film that didn't know where it was going, instead circling around the same scenes and themes over and over again.  Jolie (who also wrote the film) has crafted a movie that looks beautiful and sumptuous, but fails to create a substantive story to match the visuals.  Rather than feel well-rounded, her character Vanessa is excruciatingly one-note in her emotions.  Even when she begins to blossom after spying on the honeymooners, Vanessa's motives never seem reasonably explored.  And, quite frankly, the less said about that aforementioned something that caused Vanessa's deep depression, the better.

I'm oddly pleased that I gave By the Sea a chance because I'm still mildly intrigued by the notion of Angelina Jolie as a director (as I mentioned, the film looks gorgeous and the first hour was uniquely lensed), but she's missing something as a writer.  It's in the screenplay that By the Sea flounders and unfortunately it flounders too much to even think about recommending.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

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