By The Sea


With the recent buzz about how few female screenwriters and directors there are, not to mention the continued complaint that female actors (can we no longer say “actresses”?) over “a certain age” don't get picked anymore, I really hate to be critical of a film not only written and directed by a woman, but featuring that same over-40 woman in love scenes. But “By The Sea” is just so S-L-O-W it's difficult to sit through. Maybe in another era we would have been content to just sit and watch A-listers look pretty in idyllic vacation spots. But now, I'm afraid, we expect them to do something interesting. Or at least say something interesting.
As it is, well, there's just not enough story line, or character development. Roland (Brad Pitt) is a once-successful writer, and his gorgeous wife Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) is accompanying him at a lovely French seaside resort, where he's supposed to recover his Muse and write his next great work.
The problem is, it's not happening. Roland, instead of spending his days toiling at the typewriter (manual, even), instead spends them at the bar and restaurant downstairs, eating by himself and drinking too much. Vanessa, for her part, does....absolutely nothing. She lounges around in big hats and filmy outfits, sips wine, and listlessly pages through “Vogue” magazine. She's asleep by the time Roland finally staggers in. This seems intentional on both their parts. Obviously, there's a big elephant in the room; something has come between them, and we're not sure what it is until we've lost interest in the characters, anyway, and no longer care what happens to them.
Meanwhile, the couple next door seems to be engaging in a lot of, er...coupling. Both Roland and Vanessa discover the peephole behind the writing table, and both avail themselves of the voyeurism. Lea (Melanie Laurent) and Francois (Melvil Poupaud) are celebrating an anniversary, and also trying to get pregnant, and their activity is frequent and boisterous. Eventually Roland and Vanessa find some common ground in peeping together, which is supposed to light a fire under them, but mostly we just get more smoldering, which is difficult to distinguish from simmering anger.
There's the obligatory sailing expedition, which really doesn't add anything. Vanessa and Lea go shopping together, and then play cards, which doesn't advance the story, either. Eventually, Vanessa begins to taunt Roland about his wanting Lea, which he insists is not the case. And just as we're beginning to wonder if Vanessa herself actually fancies Lea, she instead sets her cap on Francois. Just in time, Roland crashes in to intervene, because, really, Vanessa is just acting out some of her own issues.
So at the end, Roland and Vanessa drive away happily? Or is this whole thing just an occasion for Ms. Jolie-Pitt to show the world that her famous reconstruction surgery is actually pretty realistic? Is that the point here? Or are Brangelina just showing off their French language skills?
Well, unfortunately, none of it results in a movie worth watching.

Questions For Discussion:
  1. What luxury resort was your favorite? Which have you not been to yet that you want to try?
  2. How does a married couple work through their problems? How should they not do it?
  3. Does voyeurism appeal to you? (See David and Bathsheba, 2 Samuel 11) Why or why not?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas