‘By the Sea’ proves a vanity project by Jolie Pitt

Rebecca Smalbach

“By the Sea,” the latest film by director Angelina Jolie Pitt, is a visually beautiful movie, but not a particularly poignant one.

Vanessa (Jolie Pitt) and Roland (Brad Pitt) star as a couple who visits the South of France, and the movie focuses on their collapsing marriage as Vanessa retreats into depression and Roland retreats into drunkenness.

The aesthetic of “By the Sea” is especially lush and rich, with the glamour and glitz of the upper class evident in every scene. There are always gorgeous people to look at and gorgeous surroundings to admire. The decision to set the film in the ‘70s was a good choice, as the absence of modern technology contributes to an almost dream-like feeling.

However, the many pretty props do not make up for the lack of action and plot in the film.

Much of “By the Sea” consists of Vanessa looking around melodramatically, and this soon becomes incredibly mind-dulling. She looks at the couple in the next hotel room, out her bedroom window, at a boat floating on the water―the film is replete with decadent and egotistical shots of Vanessa that do nothing to further the plot or invest viewers in her fate.

The movies Jolie Pitt has previously directed, “Unbroken” and “The Land of Blood and Honey,” offered raw and uncensored takes on historic events, and they succeeded because they had exciting plotlines and showed Jolie Pitt’s ambition as a filmmaker. “By the Sea,” however, is so vapid and self-indulgent that it makes other vapid self-indulgent movies look like high-action thrillers.   

Everything in the movie seems repetitive―a close-up of Vanessa crying, Roland wanting to touch her, Vanessa crying more, Roland shouting, Roland leaving. It’s an endless cycle, and it’s unbearably tedious to watch.

Though Jolie Pitt may have used this monotonous sequence to aid in the depiction of Vanessa’s depression, all it does is depress the viewer. I kept expecting the plot to pick up, but it never did.

Even the occasional moments where the storyline actually developed felt out of place. They seemed haphazardly dropped by someone who hadn’t thought out the rest of the plot.

Unfortunately, Jolie Pitt and Pitt were equally insipid in their roles. Their performances lacked depth, and though I first thought their glamorous characters had hidden substance, it turned out they were simply boring.

“By the Sea” very obviously draws on certain elements of European art films, such as the hazy visuals as popularized in French New Wave film-making. However, it is impossible to have well-calculated shots when the plot itself is not well-calculated.

This movie is pretty, but not pretty enough to hold interest―it excites the eyes, but fails to budge the mind and heart.

With a two-hour run time, “By the Sea” most definitely overstays its welcome. Jolie Pitt’s movie is reminiscent of French art films, but ultimately her take on the genre is long, dull, and not worth seeing.