- Movie Rating -

By the Sea (2015)

| December 8, 2015

Half an hour into By the Sea, I began to get the sinking feeling the movie was actually slowing down – and that was after a slow start. I’m not being mean, I’m serious.  The movie started slow, then slowed to such a crawl that I almost expected the movie to come to a dead stop.  Truth be told, this movie is so dusty and dull that I was almost certain that’s what was happening.

There’s a sense of anticipation in every film, even the slowest of art films, in which I wait for the spark that will ignite the plot so we can get going. In the case of By the Sea, it took about an hour before I began the piece together the movie’s actual purpose, and worse was the fact that it was going to be another hour before anything meaningful was going to happen.

This is an experience that I should have anticipated. By the Sea is already generating some infamy. It opened in mid-November to a weekend box office gross that didn’t even top $100,000 and then took a beating from many of the critics that was equal to what Apollo Creed got from Ivan Drago. Is it worth that kind of negativity?   Well . . . yes.

If By the Sea were just any other movie with a no-name cast, I probably could have dismissed it and moved on. But here are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, two beautiful people, a married couple in real life playing a married couple on screen. With that, we might expect a bit of autobiography especially since she wrote and directed the movie and they both had a hand in producing. Is it autobiographical? Lord, I hope not. I refuse to believe that these two engaging people are this dull and lifeless.

Let’s start from the beginning. Somewhere in the mid-70s, Vanessa and Roland are an unhappy couple who have been enduring a loveless marriage that is now trudging into its 14th year. We can imagine that, long ago, there was a spark in their marriage that kept them together. What burned that spark out is something that we have to wait two hours to figure out.

Apparently thinking that a vacation will cure their ills they drive up to a remote French town for a stay at a hotel with a view of the Mediterranean that is breathtaking. The point, I think, is for Roland to get some writing done and for the couple to clear their heads about what is bothering them. In their room, he moves the table next to the window and sets up a typewriter then spends the rest of the movie either sleeping or chugging booze in the bar downstairs. Apparently Roland is one of those writers who spends more time telling people that he’s a writer then actually writing.

Vanessa, on the other hand, does little to nothing. She sits, she broods, she walks around in big floppy hats, she looks longingly at the sea, and she’s rude to other people. Something’s going on her mind, something so severe that at one point she goes down to the sea and contemplates suicide. Back in the room, her only real point of interest – when she isn’t fussing at Roland for drinking too much – is peeking through a hole in the wall and watching the newlyweds in the room next door.

Those are the points of interest. In between – padding a 122 minute running time – are scenes of Jolie staring at the walls or standing on the balcony staring at the Mediterranean with all the life and energy of a house cat settling in for a nap. Meanwhile he spends time talking to a friendly bartender about marriage and women – actually he has a better connection with this man then he does with his wife.

Occasionally, Vanessa and Roland spend time together but it’s in an effort to avoid what ails them. Something troubling is brewing in their marriage that they won’t talk about and it dawns on us that this particular problem is going to become the film’s emotional climax. What is revealed is something that should have been dealt with at least a half an hour into the movie so that we didn’t have to spend a long boring hour looking at people looking at things. These two beautiful nitwits spend empty hours hating each other. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Recently, I revisited Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, another story of a couple dealing with  disconnection.  But that story hashed out their problems in the first half hour so we have time to deal with that is driving them apart.  Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman talked about their problem.  This story uses the problem as a carrot on a stick that we wait two boring hours to get around to.

It becomes obvious early on that whatever prompted Pitt and Jolie to make this movie is probably more interesting to them then it is to us. The story is as dull as dishwater, and that’s all the more frustrating because we know how spirited and engaging these two are. By the Sea is a struggle to sit through. It is less a story then a test of your patience. How long can you endure pretty pictures? How long can you endure two of the most likable actors being miserable? They’re not engaging here. These two actors became movie stars because of their personalities. They’ve created Vanessa and Roland, two people who deserve each other, but what did we do to deserve them?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2015) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Uncategorized