Published Nov 13, 2015When Mr. and Mrs. Smith was released in 2005, the most interesting thing about the movie didn't have to do with the actual finished product itself (which, if memory serves, was actually pretty mediocre), but what happened behind the scenes and off camera between its co-stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie: a secret love affair, the dissolution of a long-term relationship between anointed Hollywood royalty and the starting of a new one.
Now, a decade later, Pitt and Jolie (who now goes by the surname Jolie Pitt, having married Pitt back in 2014) are together again in her European arthouse-esque, pseudo-erotic romantic drama By the Sea. The captivating and deeply personal picture finds the rising writer and director delivering some of her most interesting work to date, but will ultimately be remembered for the reasons behind its creation and the emotional turmoil that apparently occurred when not on screen.
The minimalist film's story is fairly standard: Two lovers, named Roland and Vanessa (presumably in their forties or fifties), escape to a French seaside town to rejuvenate their relationship and his career as an author. He's halfway between Ernest Hemingway and your unemployed friend who lists their occupation as "writer" on their Facebook page, with little regard for the people in his life and their own personal well being, drinking the day away while accomplishing nothing in particular. She, on the other hand, is a former dancer who has decided to give up her gift due to old age and an apparent lack of interest from anyone, popping pills to make her disappointing life with her husband more bearable.
But when Vanessa discovers a secret peephole between their hotel room and the neighbouring couple's — an art dealer and his new wife celebrating their honeymoon — she becomes obsessed with watching them and how their lives reflect the one she once had. Soon, Roland learns about the voyeuristic outlet, and the two spend most of their days and nights watching the younger couple fuck and frolic, fully aware that this escapist pleasure is merely buying time before they dissect and discuss a more damaged part of their own relationship (which rears its head in the film's final act and at least partly explains the actions that have transpired).
It's a striking, albeit at times uneven, examination of a relationship that has lost its lustre between two people past their prime, and it's totally relatable. But when you're one of the most popular couples in the world, it's hard for people not to look for deeper, more personal meaning behind the work, and the promotional cycle for this film has delivered it in spades: By the Sea was reportedly filmed on Pitt and Jolie Pitt's honeymoon; Jolie Pitt worked on it as a way of coping with the death of her mother; the pair worried for their own relationship while working on the film.
Every factoid that comes out about the film's creation is juicy to the general public and will no doubt impact the way you receive this movie, which is a bit of a shame, because it will most likely be remembered as a vanity project (especially when one realizes major motion picture company Universal decided to back such a strange film). But time has a weird way of stripping away excesses, unneeded information, so don't be surprised if this film is revisited and reinterpreted even further years after its release.