If you’re searching for the perfect GIF to let your social media followers know just how you feel about the demise of Brangelina, look no further than By the Sea. In under two minutes, the trailer for Angelina Jolie’s 2015 passion project hits all the cinematic clichés of a failed marriage: Jolie stares out of windows, smokes despondently, and ugly cries in a particularly prescient impression of the hearing news of the break up. Cruel, craggy vistas denote the emotional wasteland of Brad Pitt’s character, a man whose depression is sartorially denoted by wife beaters and a cry-for-help mustache. The film, which was written and directed by Angelina Jolie and stars the noted humanitarian and her soon-to-be ex-husband, was widely denigrated as a vanity project—our own Jen Yamato called it “boring as fuck.”
By the Sea’s tepid reception—a reflection of moviegoers’ lack of sympathy for beautiful people doing predictably ugly things to each other inside expensive real estate—is ironic, given our hunger for any and all information surrounding the celebrity couple’s newly discovered IRL dissatisfaction. If By the Sea was a documentary about the actual dissolution of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s marriage (perhaps Lemonade-style, featuring Marion Cotillard as Becky with the good truther memes?), it probably would’ve made a stronger impression. Cue the inevitable rumors of drug abuse, infidelity, and general dickishness.
A story about the slow and predictable decline of a marriage—she wants a villa in France, he wants a mansion in Surrey, she thinks that his beard looks dumb, he fell asleep halfway through In the Land of Blood and Honey—gets fewer clicks than a picture of Kylie Jenner showing some skin. So as we pick at the rotten remains of this 13-year-long relationship, looking for any sort of meaty gossip or possible explanation to sink our teeth into, it’s tempting to theorize that By the Sea’s depiction of a couple in decline contained more fact than fiction.
By the Sea was shot in Malta, almost immediately following the A-List couple’s 2014 nuptials. “Yes, we spent our honeymoon playing two people in a terrible marriage,” Jolie explained. “I’m sure a therapist would have a field day analyzing the films I choose to do. But it’s been 10 years since Brad and I have worked together. It felt like it was time.”
Fans of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jennifer Aniston’s least favorite erotic spy-thriller, will notice a drastic shift in Brad and Angelina’s second joint endeavor, from gleefully falling in love to slowly falling out of it. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. At the time, Jolie described filming their twisted cinematic romance as “the best honeymoon,” adding, “Because we have been together so long we wanted to see how far we could push our relationship and our love and see if we can work together under very intense circumstances and with very complex issues…It was kind of a message to each other that we are going to stick together whatever comes.” I’m not crying, you’re crying!
After 13 years of partially wedded bliss, the Jolie-Pitts have taught us, their unsolicited stalkers, all sorts of lessons about life and love. They showed us that even perfect marriages between people with matching blonde highlights aren’t always built to last. They brought vital attention to universal issues, from women’s rights to conservation to mid-life crisis facial hair. And they proved that you don’t need baby oil to break the internet. But perhaps the least obvious lesson to take from all of this is one that bears repeating: coupled actors should not do movies together. Your relationship, and audiences worldwide, will suffer for it.
By the Sea is just the latest cinematic misadventure to prove this rule. In 1986, newlyweds Madonna and Sean Penn co-starred in the British adventure-comedy film Shanghai Surprise. It was an instant, unproblematic classic, and the two lived happily ever after. JK. One fake accent and multiple forays into Jewish mysticism later, Shanghai Surprise still rates high on Madonna’s list of biggest mistakes (along with, you know, marrying Penn). Penn starred as a conman selling glow-in the-dark neckties in Shanghai. Madonna played a missionary nurse hunting opium for her ailing patients—a role that earned her a Razzie award for worst actress of the year.
On the film’s Macau set, the infamously unpredictable Penn was arrested for attempted murder after he was caught dangling a paparazzo over his ninth-floor hotel room balcony. Penn would later confess that he was wasted throughout filming—and for the majority of his marriage. Unfortunately, the actor had trouble channeling that passion into his performance. Even a George Harrison-helmed score couldn’t save this Orientalist nightmare, with the ex-Beatle penning lyrics like: “It’s getting hot for me, like tofu when it deep fries.”
It’s hard to say which has aged worse: this ’80s Hollywood depiction of Asian gangsters and exotic opium dens, or Madonna’s interpretation of a ’30s ingénue. Suffice to say, the film was a box office disaster and a critical flop; the Chicago Sun-Times charitably threw the movie half a star, warning, “Idiotic dialogue should turn off the adults, teens will be disappointed by their rock heroine and kids shouldn’t even be watching.” One MGM executive was quoted confessing that “the interest in the film has been non-existent.” Shanghai Surprise sucker-punched audiences in August of 1986, but it would take years of alleged emotional and physical abuse before Madonna and Penn finally called it quits.
More recently, Satan brought us Gigli, the 2003 “comedy” helmed by Bennifer 1.0. Starring Ben Affleck as a loan shark and his then fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, as a lesbian “independent contractor” caught up in mob machinations, Gigli’s plot is about as unsubtle as Affleck’s Italian accent. The Wall Street Journal called Gigli, “The worst movie—all right, the worst allegedly major movie—of our admittedly young century.” It was the first film in history to dominate the top five categories at the Razzie Awards, and rounded out what Affleck later deemed the “annus horribilis” of his life. Unfortunately, Bennifer’s shared ability to offend multiple disparate identity groups—gay women, film lovers, and those with intellectual disabilities, to name just a few—was about the only thing the couple had in common, and they broke up just one year after releasing their universally reviled love child. Lopez is actually one of the few actors to make this mistake twice, costarring in 2006’s El Cantante with her more recent ex, Marc Anthony, as is Affleck, who appeared opposite then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow in Bounce.
It’s tempting to make sweeping generalizations about failed onscreen performances, arguing that bad cinematic chemistry is a recipe for relationship disaster. A more rational approach would simply advise celebrities and normies alike to avoid mixing the professional with the personal. It turns out that 24/7 couple time can kill any relationship—even if your boyfriend looks like Brad Pitt. In conclusion, it’s probably not a good idea to star in a film alongside your partner, especially if that movie is Gigli and/or your husband is Sean Penn. Thank you, Brangelina, for leaving us with one last piece of A-list marital advice that isn’t directly applicable to our boring lives.