By the Sea, the latest project from Angelina Jolie Pitt (as she's now crediting herself), had potential to generate Oscar buzz. The director's last two films, In the Land of Blood and Honey and Unbroken, were both tossed about in pre-awards season discussions. (The latter ended up earning three nominations in technical categories.) By the Sea stars two Oscar winners -- Jolie, herself, and Academy Award winner Brad Pitt -- and will similarly be released in prime prestige movie season, on Nov. 13.
But following the film's premiere during AFI Fest's opening night on Thursday, reviews are beginning to roll in and the reception has been, err, tepid, to say the least.
The Hollywood Reporter calls By the Sea a "vanity project" that "has no reason for being." Meanwhile, Variety blasts the drama as "meandering" and "overlong," saying it will "test the patience of even die-hard Brangelina fans."
The Wrap published the most brutal take, writing, "If By the Sea weren't so aggressively humorless, it might almost qualify as camp, so unsuccessful is its pursuit of weighty drama. Unintentional laughs are hard to come by here; instead, there are yawns aplenty."
(There is also an arguably sexist note in The Wrap's review that Jolie Pitt's reputation as a "competent" filmmaker would not be "entirely undone" by By the Sea, as if male filmmakers aren't given a million second chances after their movies bomb.)
So what happened? Perhaps it was expectations -- it has been 10 years since the duo first teamed up in Mr. & Mrs. Smith and, throughout their relationship, fans have hoped they would collaborate onscreen again. Did people expect something similar to the spy romp?
Because By the Sea is seemingly not only different from their past work, but different from anything in theaters. Multiple reviews gave Jolie Pitt credit for creating an art house film when no other directors would take such a risk. Indiewire reasons that the film could be remembered as a "cult curiou" in Jolie Pitt's filmography.
Or perhaps it truly is a misstep in Jolie Pitt's young, otherwise lauded filmmaking career -- there isn't a single director who hasn't gaffed at least once. She has already set up her next project, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, which seems more in line with her past work. (It, too, will be a family affair: She'll produce with her son, Maddox.)
Still, we're hoping the response to By the Sea won't stop the writer-director from stepping outside her comfort zone and taking risks in the future. Jolie Pitt is at her best when she's acting boldly.
Either way, Pitt appears proud of the work they did and says they are "stronger" for it, which should help them weather some of the more negative reviews. "It was a good time," he told ET about shooting the film. "We came out stronger on the other end. Just, making something together, and something she wrote, it was a real pleasure."
A sentiment Jolie Pitt echoed when she told us it was "an odd honeymoon." "A few weeks into it, we wondered if it was a good idea because it is…heavy and it's a lot of fighting. But we had the thought that if we can do it, if we can be close in that way and that open as artists, then you push through and you really get closer and you learn something," she explained on the red carpet at the AFI premiere.
"If it doesn't work it's the worst honeymoon ever," she added with a laugh. "But if it works you've learned something and I think that's how we came out of it stronger."
Now, find out what Angelina and Brad told ET about why they want to make show business a "family affair":