There's practically a whole saga contained in the minute-long trailer for By the Sea, the new Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt drama, which dropped Thursday. Delicate plucks of a guitar string soundtrack scenes of the Jolie-Pitt couple, clearly going through some trouble (Pitt looks deeply pensive, while Jolie's face is tear-stained). Then, all goes silent. There's a struggle. The music comes back in, and Pitt exits their hotel room, located in the picturesque French seaside, leaving Jolie crumpled on the floor. But the sweet song that accompanies the trailer is perhaps the least expected choice for the scenes it depicts — what is the song in the By The Sea trailer?
Turns out, the song is "Perfect Day," a Harry Nilsson track dating from the mid-’70s. Though he was something of a pop sensation at his peak, Nilsson is probably best known now for "Coconut" (yes, it's exactly the song you think it is — "You put the lime in the coconut..."). Nothing much became of "Perfect Day" when it was first released, but it appeared in All that Jazz a couple years later, in 1979. It gets star treatment here, where it almost oddly accompanies the breakdown of a couple's marriage while on holiday in the south of France.
But, when you look at the lyrics, it's clear that this song was selected precisely because it contrasts so vividly with the images in the trailer. The song is like a smooth veneer of "everything's fine," while the turmoil happens during the silence in between segments of music.
The trailer basically breaks up into three movements. The first and last feature "Perfect Day," while the interlude in the middle has dialogue and sound effects from the scene itself.
"It's the perfect way / To end a perfect day," Nilsson croons. Jolie and Pitt, playing Vanessa and Roland, a married couple in trouble, enter a luxurious suite on the French seashore. Everything is very glamorous, but the two rarely appear in the same frame at the same time. There's much wistful gazing off into the distance; Roland, a writer, seems to be struggling to put pen to paper; Vanessa pops pills and cries alone. The serene song that accompanies all of this smooths over the rough edges of their relationship that only appear behind closed doors. Perhaps this trip is meant to revitalize their marriage. In any case, their problems seem to escalate when they're alone together because suddenly, the music stops playing.
With a click and a bright flash, all goes silent in the trailer. "Are we ever going to talk about it?" a voice-over of Pitt says as Jolie walks along a rocky shore. Then, "Do you hate me? Do you hate me?" he repeats. "Do you want to hurt me?" He keeps demanding, and the scene shifts to the couple — a rare moment in the same frame — and she hits him. He shouts, and the scene cuts out again. The lull in the music leaves space for the development of some action here. It also reveals what was lying beneath the sweet folk tune that had been playing just moments before — the contrast wouldn't have nearly the same impact without the music.
The music quickly returns as the dialogue ends. Pitt's character exits their hotel room as Nilsson chants once more, "It's a perfect day." But Vanessa lies still on the floor. Perhaps not such a perfect end to a perfect day.
What the trailer doesn't really say about the specifics of the plot, it certainly compensates for in moodiness. The characters' names are hardly mentioned — and supporting cast members like Mélanie Laurent aren't even present. Harry Nilsson is definitely the greatest presence aside from the two principle characters themselves. Between the song and the photo-ready Malta coast where filming occurred, the film has more than its share of picturesque. The Nilsson track proves the impact a thoughtful choice of music can have on film, so here's hoping the choice of soundtrack for By the Sea is as fittingly unfitting as "Perfect Day."
Images: Universal Studios (4)