Review: ‘By the Sea’ drowns in its artsy pretensions

Tom Long
The Detroit News

You can look at “By the Sea” as the narcissistic noodlings of an over-indulged Hollywood superstar.

Or you can see it as a broody art house meditation on a damaged and isolated couple, the sort of wispy worried work that might come from some French auteur known mainly to critics and film obsessives.

Either way, it’s fairly odd to see two Tinsel Town powerhouses in a film this gauzy and vague. Yet the movie was written and directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt, who also stars, along with husband Brad Pitt.

The film certainly seems to be the work Jolie Pitt intended to make, and there are odd joys to be found in its artful perversity. But the movie is terribly overlong and holds on to a big reveal forever, which is especially problematic since the reveal isn’t all that impactful.

Brad and Angie play Roland and Vanessa, visiting a French seashore resort in the 1970s. He’s a writer hoping to start a new book, she’s a former dancer; they pitch camp in an elaborate set of rooms. Then he goes down to a local bar to drink and she lounges about the room taking pills and reading magazines.

Let’s repeat that, because the film sure does: He goes down to the bar, she lounges about. A lot. It’s most of the movie. We get that she’s depressed, and he’s depressed because she’s depressed, but there’s no hint as to the cause of all this depression.

Action arrives in the form of a small hole in the wall through which Vanessa, then later Roland, can watch the cavorting of the honeymooners next door (Melanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud). Eventually, Roland and Vanessa mess with the honeymooners the way drunk, pill-popping depressives will.

The point to all this seems to be life is cruel and people are jerks, but sometimes very good-looking jerks. Deep. Let’s have another round.

‘By the Sea’


Rated R for strong sexuality, nudity and language

Running time: 132 minutes