Movie Reviews: By the Sea, Grandma, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

Set on the south coast of France in the 1970s, By the Sea (15A) centres on married couple Vanessa (Angelina Jolie) and Roland (Brad Pitt), who have left behind New York and all of its distractions in order to focus on revitalising their ailing marriage. 
Movie Reviews: By the Sea, Grandma, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

She’s an actor, he’s a writer, but both are struggling to articulate the words required to honestly address their issues.

Instead, Vanessa pops pills and vegetates on the hotel balcony; Roland heads for the local bar and drowns his sorrows with barman Michel (Niels Arestrup).

When honeymooning couple Lea (Mélanie Laurent) and François (Melvil Poupard) check in to the room next door, Vanessa’s interest is piqued — but will her growing obsession with the couple destroy her own marriage?

Written and directed by Angelina Jolie, By the Sea is an elegant, languorous tale of marital breakdown, albeit one that appears to have osmotically absorbed the somnolent pace of the tiny fishing village where it is set (cinematographer Christian Berger practically ravishes the landscape with his camera).

The slow pacing allows the characters plenty of time to develop, but while Jolie and Pitt invest their roles with a kind of tortured intimacy (with the added frisson of watching a real-life married couple bicker and fight), overall their portrayal of a faltering marriage is a little too refined and genteel to fully reveal the raw emotions at the story’s heart.

Grandma

(16s) opens with Elle (Lily Tomlin) splitting up with her young lover Olivia (Judy Greer) in a bid to simplify her life and minimise her obligations.

Elle’s day gets complicated very quickly, however, when her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) arrives, pregnant, broke and desperate for help. With Elle — a poet — just as broke as Sage, and both incapable of asking for help from Sage’s mother Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), the bickering duo set out to beg, borrow or steal the money Sage needs to pay for an abortion.

Written and directed by Paul Weitz, Grandma is an absorbing tale of Elle’s determination to live her life on her own terms, despite the frustrations she encounters at every turn.

It’s a downbeat storyline, certainly, but Weitz’s script is by turns poignant, charming and laugh-out-loud funny, with Tomlin turning in one of the performances of her career as the irascible, punk-hearted, single-minded Elle (she’s one of those rare fictional writers where you find yourself wishing you could leave the cinema and go straight to a bookshop to read her work).

Julia Garner more than holds her own as the emotionally fragile Sage, despite sharing almost all of her screen-time with Tomlin’s tour-de-force, and the supporting cast — as Weitz takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Elle’s friends and associates — are in terrific form, with Judy Greer, Marcia Gay Harden, Laverne Cox and Sam Elliott (the latter playing Elle’s ex-husband) all turning in striking performances as their colourful characters grease (or occasionally insert a spoke into) the wheels of Elle’s unusual quest.

“Nobody believed in [Jackson] Pollock the way she did,” says one of the contributors to Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (G), a documentary directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland.

Peggy Guggenheim is remembered today as one of the great champions of avant-garde art in the 20th century, but her personal and professional relationships with a host of artists — among them Pollock, Picasso, Dali, Mondrian and Kandinsky — is by no means the most fascinating aspect of Vreeland’s story.

Peggy was regarded as the black sheep of the fabulously rich Guggenheim dynasty of New York, largely because she was a woman who followed her own star regardless of the consequences.

After enduring ‘a dull and bourgeois childhood’, Peggy Guggenheim travelled to Paris in the early 1920s, there to mix with artists and writers of the calibre of Picasso, James Joyce, Man Ray and Samuel Beckett.

It was here that her love of the radically new in art was born, and while various critics (male, mostly) offer occasionally sniffy evaluations of Peggy’s instinct when it came to collecting art, her collection has stood the test of time.

It’s a terrific tale, not least because Peggy Guggenheim was a feminist trailblazer in an art world that was almost entirely dominated by men (artists, critics, dealers, etc), but the most fascinating aspect of the film is the way in which Peggy’s tragic personal life expressed itself through her professional endeavours.

“She wanted the art as a mirror for her own strangeness,” another contributor declares, which suggests that Peggy Guggenheim’s greatest tragedy was to be born into a time when a woman who simply wanted to experience all life has to offer was considered ‘strange’.

By the Sea 3/5

Grandma 4/5

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict 4/5

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