There are few films more profoundly disturbing than Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe. At least to those who are married or in long-term relationships. The portrait of a marriage whose facade is beginning to crumble with disastrous, if sometimes hilarious, consequences is just rough to watch. Even putting aside Wolfe, the idea of marriages and relationships falling apart is territory Hollywood has many times over. After all, that kind of dynamic makes for great drama.
The latest entry in this category is By The Sea. Like Wolfe, this one features the twist that the film’s stars are a married couple in real life. Set in the mid-70s, Angelina Jolie (who also wrote and directed) and Brad Pitt play a husband and wife who travel to a French seaside getaway in part to try and reconnect as their marriage seems to be slowly unwinding. The time together, as well as with the locals, forces them to deal with the issues before them in new ways.
The teaser poster does what it can to at least set the mood for the movie. A severely washed-out picture of a stone barrier with two very 70s looking hats perched on top of it. The title treatment along with the names of the stars and the note about Jolie pulling triple duty is at the top. There’s not much here to tell the audience anything substantive about the movie other than that it’s coming and has a couple big-name actors in it. While it evokes a 1970s setting, it actually evokes a 70s kind of filmmaking more strongly. This looks like a Friedken movie.
The theatrical doubles down on that vibe. This one features as its central image a picture of Jolie whipping her hair around that’s similarly washed out and saturated with yellow hues. It’s a glamour shot, to be sure, and gives you a small look at her character’s personality, or at leas the personality the marketers want you to think she has. Two-thirds of the way down the picture is interrupted with black-and-white stripe showing a mustached Pitt alongside the title treatment and their stars’ names.
The teaser trailer shows the couple entering their French getaway. They’re sort of moving around each other throughout the spot as she looks wistfully out of windows and so on and he struggles to write. The unspoken quickly becomes spoken as they taunt each other about one knowing the reasons the other is mad, Pitt encouraging Jolie to hurt him and give rise to her anger and so on.
Like the posters, this teaser is primarily concerned with setting a mood for the audience. With the soft music and hints of tension in the marriage, the goal her is to sell the audience on an atmospheric drama filled with lingering glances, scowls of resentment and more.
The second trailer isn’t much more overt. We gets many of the same shots of the two lingering in and around their room and the French seaside along with various glances at them fighting, popping pills and kind of generally being awful to each other. This one is completely sans dialogue as the marketing team goes even further in not selling you a story but an atmosphere.
It’s interesting that the marketing puts so much emphasis on largely wordless elements to sell the film. They clearly want the mood and tone of the movie along with the performances by the stars to sell it as opposed to using “big” scenes of shouting and fighting to amp up anticipation. Perhaps this is accurate to the movie, perhaps it’s in deference to being seen as exploiting the real life relationship of Pitt and Jolie. Either way there’s a consistency in the trailers that’s clearly aimed at achieving a specific goal.
Online and Social
The official website opens with a pop-up that plays the second trailer. Once that’s done you can continue on to the site’s content, which starts with a “Gallery” including eight stills from the movie.
The “Cast and Crew” section actually opens a PDF press package in a new browser tab, something I honestly thought had fallen out of favor five years ago. It doesn’t even have a lot of information, just the cast and crew list seemingly pulled straight from the end credits for the movie. Finally, “About” has a synopsis of the movie along with lots of notes on the production by Jolie and her crew.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing on either front that I’m aware of.
Media and Publicity
Of course because the movie starred a real-life couple, that real-life couple had to spend at least some publicity cycles talking about their relationship and how the movie’s story wasn’t meant to be interpreted as autobiographical or indicative of real life. That kind of theme would continue in a feature on Pitt where he talked about how much he trust Jolie as a director.
Jolie’s role as director and writer continued to take center stage in the publicity campaign as she talked about the difficulty of filming this just as she and Pitt were getting married in real life, how writing the story was her way of exploring grief and more.
I get what the marketing team is going for here. I really do. And I like a lot of it. There’s a wonderful consistency in tone and message between the posters and trailers (and to a lesser extent the website) that really makes the film seem like a moody, serious exploration of how two depressed people deal with each other when they no longer really want to deal with each other. I like the slightly gritty tone that’s shown off since it strongly evokes, as I mentioned, not just the actual time the movie is set in but also the movies of that era. Well done on that front.
But I can’t help thinking there’s almost nothing here that’s going to attract more than a minimal audience. No one who follows the lives of Jolie and Pitt in the tabloid magazines and websites is going to find a single thing in the movie that makes it seem like an attractive alternative. Even to more serious moviegoers, there’s not much to latch on to. So points for, I’m guessing, creating a cohesive campaign that sells the real tone of the movie, but that’s undone by my feeling that this won’t appeal to anyone outside a hardcore audience of drama fans.
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