Some of us still set a little time aside each day trying to figure out how Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's 2005 hookup hit Mr & Mrs Smith managed to take $475m at the box office, given how painfully smug and wholly unmemorable the comedy-thriller turned out to be. (Truth be told, a friendship nearly ended 'round these parts on the way home after watching it.) 

Now, there's further head scratching to be done with Jolie and Pitt's latest film - she has written and directed, they both serve as producers and star. By the Sea is a far more rewarding movie experience than their first joint venture but, ironically, it died a death at the US box office, thus prompting night sweats that a Mr & Mrs Smith sequel may soon be upon us. It's a tragedy when one good film could lead to another bad one.

By the Sea is all about love on the rocks. Its writer-director and Pitt play Vanessa and Roland, a married couple whose 14-year itch is the outward manifestation of a far deeper malaise. They arrive into the French seaside town of Port Felice looking like the freewheeling dream incarnate, but it's not long before the locals, and in particular bar owner Michel (Niels Arestrup), realise the wheels have come off and that they spend more time apart than together. 

Roland becomes Michel's best customer, Vanessa tries to blot everything out with pills and with each sunrise comes the belief that one or other of the unhappy couple will pack their bags. That is until two newlyweds (Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) arrive at the hotel and take the room next door. Could love's young dream provide Vanessa and Roland with the inspirational spark they need, or are they just lighting a fuse that will blow both marriages apart?

By rights, tickets for By the Sea should include a complimentary jar of Marmite because you'll either buy into it from the off or think that your own relationship could do with some mediation because someone suggested going to see it. There is no doubt that this drama is a half-hour too long and slow-moving, but Jolie and Pitt do some of their best work in scenes here - and they don't hold back. Of course, part of the allure is in wondering how much of the button pushing dynamics, if any, are reconfigured from personal history.

With Vanessa and Roland you really wish someone would just bang their heads together to convince them that they've as much chance of making a go of it with each other as things working out with someone new. Like the rest of us, however, the penny about being your own worst enemy can take a long time to drop. If it does at all.

A real rainy night movie, with plenty of nights to choose from.

Harry Guerin