On a bitterly cold Monday night last November, I personally witnessed Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s marriage turn to smithereens. They yelled at each other for a full two hours. She was miserable because he ignored her, while he just wanted to escape and hang at the bar. Ugh, it was so depressing.
I’m referring to their massive 2015 flop By the Sea. Though the story about a couple on the brink of disaster during a beach getaway — written by Jolie herself! — was technically a work of fiction, the truth was obvious: This pair were doomed. Pitt and Jolie are both great actors. They’re not that great.
Pitt and Jolie might not have Instagrammed photos of family outings to Disney World or tweeted sweet nothings to each other, but they always had a knack for showcasing the state of their relationship via the big screen — the very medium that propelled them to superstardom in the first place. And if Mr. & Mrs. Smith was a sign that these two were heating up romantically, then By the Sea spelled out an imminent split.
Do yourself a favor and stream the 2005 action caper that started it all (or at least watch the trailer above). Gawk at the couple’s hot-as-McDonald’s-coffee chemistry and then wonder if Jennifer Aniston truly had a chance. Originally intended as a project for Pitt and Nicole Kidman, the dynamic changed dramatically when Jolie took the role as a female agent ordered to kill her husband (and vice versa). Despite the movie’s narrative flaws, it didn't take a body-language expert to detect that Pitt and Jolie were falling in love in real life. (Jolie herself admitted as much years later, though the actor was still a married man during the 2004 production.) The scene in which they walk around the kitchen half-naked and gaze at each other while Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” plays in the background? A death blow to anyone who ever believed in the Aniston and Pitt fairy tale.
Next up: 2007’s A Mighty Heart, the harrowing drama based on the heroic life and tragic death of Wall Street Journal Middle East correspondent Daniel Pearl. Jolie played his grieving wife, Mariane; Pitt served as a producer under his Plan B umbrella company. By then, the two were living happily together, parents of four children (three adopted) and embarking on do-gooding, globetrotting adventures. It’s no surprise they decided to collaborate in a culturally and politically charged story with an international backdrop. Remind yourself of Jolie's Golden Globe–nominated performance by watching the trailer below.
See where I’m going here? They didn’t take on another joint effort until By the Sea, which Jolie also directed. In 10 years, they went from rock 'n' rolling in the bedroom onscreen to a weepy Adele ballad. The movie was pretentious and dull, yes. (I called it the Worst Movie of 2015 for a reason.) That said, it was flat-out disconcerting to watch a high-profile couple constantly bicker about their diverging careers and children. There had to be some sort of thinly veiled truth in between the written lines. I'm not saying my celebrity rose-colored glasses suddenly came off as soon as the screening ended. It is fair to say that because of the nature of this particular movie, they opened themselves up to scrutiny about the state of their union.
Look. For the love of Gigli, real-life celebrity couples should always be wary of working together. The chemistry rarely translates. The probability of a critical and commercial failure is extraordinarily high. Brangelina could have bucked the trend! Maybe not Mr. & Mrs. Smith: We Have Six Kids Now, but any high-octane romantic drama would do. (Anyone see The Light Between the Oceans?) When Pitt and Jolie traveled By the Sea, maybe they were trying to tell us their marriage was adrift.
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