#REVIEW: “BY THE SEA”
With names like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on a project, it is impossible to ignore the bright glare of their star power. Jolie‘s latest directorial effort By the Sea follows a couple, Roland (Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie) who retreat to the scenic French waterside as Roland, who is experiencing writers’ block after meteoric success with his earlier work, looks to complete work on his next novel.
Relations between the couple are tense and words are sparse as Roland delves into his writing, although unsuccessfully. Vanessa meanwhile drowns her sorrows in wine and medication. One day, a young couple – Lea (Mélanie Laurent) and François (Melvil Poupaud) very much in their honeymoon phase still, move-in next door. Increasingly, Vanessa and Roland grow obsessed with them, observing them voyeuristically, a reminder of the happiness that once filled their marriage. Slowly we wonder what drives Vanessa to want to sabotage not only her marriage, but that of the young couple next door.
Although we greatly appreciate Jolie‘s fresh perspective, a clear and intelligent feminine voice which grapples with Vanessa‘s psyche and insecurities with great sensitivity and detail, at once the integrity and authenticity of Pitt‘s Roland feels compromised, him relegated as a supporting act to Vanessa‘s manipulation and psychosis. At times the couple’s melodrama in ways echoes 2011’s marital drama Revolutionary Road but without its level of danger. Make no mistake though, the performances epecially by Jolie, unquestionably are top-shelf. She mesmerizes and her brooding almost becomes hypnotic and contagious. Pitt and Jolie naturally bring to the screen that deeply-rooted chemistry which has kept our eyes on them as a couple both on and off screen.
As a storyteller, Jolie does a phenomenal job retaining our interest and uncovering the “why” behind her toxicity and inexplicable need to destroy. Where By The Sea ultimately falls shy of greatness though is that when the story unravels, we aren’t quite sure we buy fully the explanation behind the story’s drama.
Universal Pictures Canada release By The Sea Friday, November 13, 2015.