It's clear why Angelina Jolie Pitt became a star. She was a sexpot with talent, and, just as crucially, her feline beauty was a sexpot breed we'd never seen. It's unclear why Angelina Jolie Pitt became a director. Three films into her second career, there's no sense of a filmmaker burning with stories she wants to tell, other than a drizzle of sanctimony and self-seriousness. Her movies are handsome, hard-to-swallow pills without a spark of life -- add them together and you couldn't start a fire, the way the actress once did, effortlessly, with a quick grin in trash like Gone in 60 Seconds.
For the first time, she's both director and star, and she's even written the script. By the Sea is a sun-baked romantic drama about an unhappy couple who decamp to a French beach town during the Nixon administration so that the husband (Brad Pitt) can write a book while the wife (Jolie Pitt) refuses to do anything at all. Every morning Roland heads to the bar before she wakes up and proceeds to spend the day getting soused without scribbling a word. Meanwhile, Vanessa, a depressed ex-dancer, poses in their bedroom like a retro-chic Gucci ad. Vanessa is a one-note drip, except for when she rouses herself to spy on the honeymooners (Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) next door. Roland is desperate for any connection with his wife, so the two spend their date nights watching the lovebirds bone. The film doesn't demonstrate belief in much of anything except that audiences must be so desperate for a peek into these stars' private lives that we'll invest energy in their mopey fictional counterparts.