For half of 2016, we lived in a vastly different world: Lemonade was just the name of a drink, "receipts" were simply pieces of paper and Brangelina still existed.
Then the fairy-tale romance that had dominated pop culture for over a decade exploded right in front of our eyes.
I am talking, of course, about the incident that took place on a private jet carrying the picture-perfect Jolie-Pitt family from the south of France to Los Angeles on Sept. 14 last year. Thanks to an ensuing FBI investigation, we know something happened during that long transatlantic flight. No need to dance around it.
Twelve months later, the family that used to divide their time between a wine-producing chateau in Provence, rented homes in European cities, and a sprawling L.A. mansion now lead starkly different lives.
Brad is understandably going through a major midlife reinvention—except rather than buying a brand new convertible, he recently spent 21 days and nights working on a clay sculpture while listening to Frank Ocean and drinking matcha green tea with a "harlequin froth." Perfectly normal behavior for a 53-year-old man, obviously. (And we're still dying to see the finished product.)
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Angelina's life seems to be less transformed on the surface at least. Donning the same monochrome outfit and barely there makeup, her composure is as controlled as ever and she looks to be a carbon copy of the once happily domesticated woman we have grown to know. But while Brad has openly discussed the raw impact the sudden marital transition has had on him—telling GQ Style, "I get up every morning and I make a fire. When I go to bed, I make a fire, just because -- it makes me feel life" (this guy seriously needs to go to Burning Man)—some of Angelina's recent interviews have missed the mark at making her seem vulnerable and in touch with other single moms.
It's going to take more than an anecdote about throw pillows in Vanity Fair to do that.
It's clear, a year on, that Brad is winning the inevitable popularity war between the former Jolie-Pitts. His lead was almost guaranteed as soon as the DCFS and FBI investigations cleared him of any wrongdoing on that plane; once he got a standing ovation at the Golden Globes, it was game over. While Brad's new-found eccentricity is seen as liberating, the marriage separation seems to have stripped Angelina of the untouchable status she enjoyed when they were together.
The same happened with Brad's previous marriage, too. The aftermath saw tabloids labeling Jennifer Aniston as being cold and heartless for refusing to give Brad what he had apparently always wanted, a baby, thus forcing him into the arms of another woman. I never believed the dialogue at the time, especially considering the renovation plans for Brad and Jennifer's extensive Beverly Hills home included a large nursery. Call me naïve, but I presumed that was because they were hoping for a human baby addition to the family, and not a canine sibling for Aniston's then Welsh corgi terrier mix (#RIPNorman).
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As Brad and Angelina settled into new domestic bliss, the speed of which was giddying thanks to the adoption of Zahara just months later, newly single Brad became the patriarch in a family of four overnight. Then there was the addition of Shiloh and Pax and… the rest is history. They jetted to far away places and every new pap shot helped draw attention to refugee issues and social injustices. In the wake of their travels, an extraordinary twist of perception occurred: all the do-gooding wiped away any residual blame Brad might have received for the end of marriage No. 1 (not to mention the memories of Angelina's blood vial necklace), and instead a halo-topped Brangelina rose from the ashes.
More than 10 years later, the script is playing out almost the same. Despite all Brad's best efforts to take the burden of blame off his ex, admitting to GQ he spent their final years together drinking too much, for many he remains the hero of the story while Angelina continues to be identified as the instigator.
Just this week as she walked two red carpets in Toronto with her kids in tow, lots of people (including me) questioned if her decision to pose with her children was simply a way to deflect attention away from the embarrassment of her recent scuffle with Vanity Fair. (Last month she accused the magazine of misquoting her, a claim they vehemently denied). The publication's smack-down seemed to confirm what her harshest critics think they already know about Angelina, that she is not all that she seems.
Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott/Vanity Fair
But are any of us? Sure, Angelina is not perfect, but she is certainly not the villain in this story. I am not saying Brad is, either; I am actually a tad jealous of his new carefree lifestyle—don't we all wish we could take a few weeks off to visit national parks and wallow in Frank Ocean lyrics?
Couples part all the time. But unfortunately for Angie, not only is she having to deal with the breakdown of her marriage but also the destruction of her almost perfect image. I've seen commenters on social media put her recent spate of negative press down to karma coming back to haunt her for Brad and Jen—but it takes two to tango. And their children certainly shouldn't be at the receiving end of that twist of fate.
No matter what Angelina does, no matter how many quotes she gives about motherhood (whatever you might think about her as an estranged wife, you can't deny she's a natural with the kids), she can't seem to catch a break. Unlike Drew Barrymore, Kate Hudson and Jennifer Garner, other women who have all gone through very public breakups with the father of their children, Angelina is not using social media to try to convince us she's relatable and just like us. Instead she is part of an increasingly rare group of celebrities who still think they can control their own narrative via age-old methods like red carpet photo calls and glossy magazine covers. But in this new age of transparency, celebrity doesn't work like that anymore; you can no longer tame the fame monster.
Angelina's struggle back up was always going to be harder than Brad's because he will forever be the boy next door that the world grew up with. And let's face it, when it comes to the residents of 90210, we can all be particularly misogynistic in our judgment of women when a marriage ends. Angelina is just our latest victim.