Tuesday 1 December 2015

By The Sea (2015) - Movie Review


http://redribbonreviewers.wordpress.comThere are a great many reasons why people make films: To create capital-A Art, to portray a certain point, to give others a view into the psyche of the filmmaker(s), to showcase a person’s abilities, or even as a means to filter unchecked drug money. Hell, it can even be for reasons as simple as a given person has access to the equipment and means to film something. Now, given how I have watched, reviewed, loved and hated films that wildly vary in terms of the whys and hows, it would be rather foolish to say that any one reason is more meaningful than the other. However, with the advent of the 'film star' has come a particularly troubling reason: A means to get a paid vacation. Way too often, we see actors starring in films of questionable merit, featuring beautiful locales all strung together with the kind of writing that usually results in a combination of mashing one’s face into the keyboard and Spell Check. That said, today’s film is a bit different from that, as said star is also the writer, producer and director. Basically, if anything goes wrong, it’s all Angelina Jolie’s fault. Let’s get started as I focus my aim now that I know who the target is.

The plot: Roland (Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Angelina Jolie-Pitt [Yeah, she was credited as this, just so there’s no confusion about the two actors and their relation to each other]), in the hope of both rekindling their failing marriage and giving inspiration to Roland for his writing, go to a small seaside French hotel for a vacation. They soon take notice of a newly-wed couple (Mélanie Laurent and Melvin Poupaud) in the same hotel and, as they start to take an interest in them, it seems that they may be alright again through rather unorthodox means.

For the majority of the film, we see Brangelina drinking wine, dining, playing cards, showering, all while they ponder about what has happened to their marriage. Yeah, all of a sudden, that assumption about this being a filmed paid holiday makes too much sense because the writing here feels like it was done on the fly without any real planning put into it. Apart from the core reason for the marital woes (which is treated like a shocking reveal and yet is heavily alluded to as early as the second scene containing dialogue), everything is constantly in flux: Their level of affection for each other, the effect watching the other couple is having on them, the tone of the overall film; none of it is consistent with itself. Whenever it feels like some development is being made in Brad and Angelina’s relationship (why bother naming them after their characters for a film this weak?), the next scene will directly contradict what just happened. Then again, that’s in the rare few moments when something actually does happen. Last time I saw Brad Pitt acting in a film that had this little actually happening in it, it was with The Tree Of Life. However, even with how I detest that film, an argument can at least be made that the visuals were worth the trudge. Here, while the cinematography is lovely, it isn’t nearly enough.

For the entire first act, not much really happens aside from reminding the audience of other films they could be watching instead: An older married couple influencing newly-weds who live next door (Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?), a writer going to a secluded hotel with his wife to help give him inspiration to write (The Shining), … actually, bugger the third comparison I was about to make, this film is a lot like The Shining. Now, while many people would probably like to disagree with me, I couldn’t stand The Shining: Horribly miscast, weakly written and, above all else, edited in such an awkward manner as to induce laughter. That last bit is what connects these two films together, as Martin Pensa and Patricia Rommel need to be reprimanded for what they did here. If it isn’t blatant continuity errors like a suddenly soaking wet shirt, then it’s frames of unidentified pretentious objects randomly inserted into the scene. Not only that, the duo are so chop-happy that it often feels like they were attempting to salvage footage that couldn’t be re-shot but also featured an actor flub.

However, once the second act kicks in, things actually start happening. And by "things", I mean "you sure this wasn’t a comedy?". Brangelina spend a majority of the second act just spying on the younger couple having sex. At one point, they even take the couple out to dinner and a drink, just to see what will happen in their room if they’re drunk. I don’t usually summarise parts of the film beyond the synopsis, but I’m making an exception here because this is some of the goofiest stuff I’ve seen all year that I was apparently supposed to take seriously. With all the French dialogue being utilised, this feels like a quirky French comedy that got a very drastic re-write somewhere down the line; maybe it’s because, in that context, this idea could have worked.

However, much like pretty much any other potential bit of interesting writing in this film, this is never properly utilised. As the film continues showing one of Hollywood’s power couples playing disgruntled voyeurs, complete with them eating dinner on the floor right next to the peep hole, this jovial tone ends up crashing head-first with the more sombre air of the first act as the film inches closer to the end credits. This is usually a scenario that would result in some good old-fashioned mindfrag material, but the film isn’t even engaging enough to do that. Yes, even with the boost the unintentionally hilarious parts give it, this is still an incredibly boring film.

All in all, this is a vanity project in every sense of the term. If it isn’t just showing off Angelina Jolie’s figure, it’s glorifying her ‘character’ as being the victim regardless of whatever ends up happening. The only watchable part of this film is when they spy on the younger couple having sex, but even then it’s more like two scientists watching lab mice fuck; it’s more awkward than anything else. Because of what this ultimately is and the reason it was made, I can only recommend seeing it if you do so by the cheapest means possible; if she thinks this is worth releasing, then quite frankly she doesn’t deserve your hard-earned cash money.

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