With her decision to file for divorce from Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie burst a lot of bubbles—and not just the "but they looked so happy" bubble, though that one popped the loudest.
Another bubble that burst was the one containing all the hopes that their divorce would just be one of those things, an unfortunate end for a storied Hollywood couple but just... you know, life happening.
Alas, that wasn't to be. Instead, an unexpectedly sharp war of words ensued, with Jolie's side wielding the bigger sword.
But in playing offense in her divorce, Jolie simultaneously ended up on defense in the public eye. Whether she had any notion of keeping people on her proverbial side or not when she explained that she had chosen to end her marriage for the "health of the family," thereby serving up the notion that Pitt had major issues and letting it just linger out there in the ether for people to chew on, Jolie (or someone) may have underestimated society's willingness to forgive a male movie star anything.
Not to say Pitt required forgiveness, but let's just say his PR team needn't have lost a minute of sleep worrying about their client's image.
Already roguish and rough enough around the edges to give off the impression of harboring a few personal demons, Pitt was in the clear—both legally, when the FBI looked into a report of Brad having an altercation with son Maddox aboard a private jet and cleared him of wrongdoing, and emotionally, with the fans looking into reports of him possibly being a less-than-perfect specimen and absolving him of any guilt.
So somehow Jolie came off looking like the one who had purposefully aired the family's dirty laundry to make her ex look bad. (Well, not somehow. In their attempt to block his motion to have their family court proceedings sealed, Jolie's lawyer did allege in court documents filed in January that Pitt was "terrified" to have the public "learn the truth." As they ventured back into speaking mode outside of court, Jolie agreed to the extra layer of privacy.)
Though these things tend to get out anyway, regardless of who says what, it was Jolie who—while obviously putting her children first—didn't seem to have a problem with letting it be known that Pitt had caused this. Pitt's legal motion alleged, however, that she was "determined to ignore even agreed upon standards relating to the children's best interest and she is attempting to clear the way to put in the public eye any allegations she can, without regard to the impact on the minor children."
Not really being able to argue with what the court orders about supervised visitation, etc. were implying, Pitt opted to own his issues in his May 2017 insta-classic interview with GQ Style in which he talked sobriety (and his lack thereof before the divorce), his tendency to check out emotionally instead of engage, times in which he couldn't see the forest for the trees, his post-split sadness and his most urgently pressing goal, which was to repair his relationship with his kids.
Pitt didn't go after Jolie once. In fact, he hadn't personally criticized her one bit (that's what lawyers are for, to deny allegations that you're "terrified" of the truth coming out) until, following Jolie's summer interview Vanity Fair, a source told E! News that Pitt did not like the way in which his ex included their six kids in the story as post-split plot devices.
But what was Jolie to do? Pitt had already extensively talked about screwing up, so, while it would have made for some juicy headlines, she refrained from piling on with more detailed examples beyond "things got bad." Though she was on the cover of VF's September issue, the article was published July 26, meaning she had given the interview at least a few weeks if not months beforehand—and maybe she just hadn't been ready to turn that much of a light on herself.
Moreover, what was she supposed to say if she, unlike Pitt, didn't feel all that much at fault for what happened? She admitted it had been awfully hard and sad for her, but otherwise Jolie was caught between a rock and a headline place.
"This is the first time I have done this for a long time," Jolie admitted to Britain's Telegraph while talking about her latest directorial effort, First They Killed My Father. "It's not easy. I am a little shy this time, because I am not as strong inside as I have been in the past."
She acknowledged that running the press gauntlet for a film this time would not be like other times. Her people could've instructed the press to ask no personal questions (oh, how celebs love option D: "none of the above"), but Jolie wasn't born yesterday. May as well go out and greet the virtual crowd as herself, since that's the person who had been lost along the way in this process.
"It's been difficult," she said. "I don't enjoy being single. It's not something I wanted. There's nothing nice about it. It's just hard."
First of all, bravo. There's nothing worse (figuratively speaking) than the pressure of having to feel as though you're fine—or even better off, perhaps!—being single all the time. Of course, you are fine, and quite possibly you are better off, especially if the alternative is an unhealthy situation, but there's no weakness in admitting you don't love it. Ironically, just as it's important to stress that being a relationship isn't the end-all and be-all, these days, with all this empowerment talk, it's become important to relay that you're not an old-fashioned wuss for desiring companionship either.
So, right off the bat, Jolie isn't putting on airs.
"Sometimes maybe it appears I am pulling it all together, but really I am just trying to get through my days," she continued. "Emotionally, it's been a very difficult year and I have had some other health issues. So my health is something I have to monitor." Jolie has been incredibly open about her health concerns, writing essays for the New York Times about the preventative surgeries she underwent because of her heightened genetic risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, and she told VF about suffering from Bell's palsy and high blood pressure in the wake of her leaving Pitt.
"I think now I need to rediscover a little bit of the old me," she concluded. "I think we lose our way a bit. I have had a lot happen in my life, from certain people passing to health issues to raising the children. And it's been a very good time to absorb and develop and grow. But maybe now that my kids are growing up I am starting to realize that my own sense of play has been put on hold for a while. And maybe them hitting their teens is going to bring out a little more fun in Mom...so maybe I am going back. It may be time."
Meanwhile, she also told The Hollywood Reporter that she was down to "do some acting" while she awaited her next passion project as a filmmaker.
"I've taken over a year off now, because of my family situation, to take care of my kids," Jolie said. "When I feel it's time for me to go back to work, I'll be able to go back to work. I've been needed at home. I hope [to work again] in the months to come."
Pitt's almost seamless transition (in Hollywood, that is) from Brangelina to just being Brad again may indeed also owe a debt to the irons in the fire he had going at the time, in addition to his candor.
He had to hit the red carpet perhaps earlier than he would have wanted to promote (or at least be visible in anticipation of) the WWII-era thriller Allied, which came out in November. More recently he had to promote his modern-day military satire War Machine, which premiered on Netflix in May. His Plan B Entertainment produced Moonlight, the eventual 2017 Best Picture Oscar winner, so that was its own kind of career triumph.
But now it's Jolie's turn to recapture her slice of this narrative that initially got so lost when she became the calculatedly cool customer who filed for divorce from a two-time Sexiest Man Alive.
Happily, apart from what she's been sharing on the personal front, First They Killed My Father—a true-life story about the horrors wrought by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime and very much a passion project for Jolie—just got a standing ovation at the Telluride Film Festival and will be screening at the Toronto International Film Festival as well before premiering Sept. 15 on Netflix.
And though she has "a lot of different things floating around" on the acting front, including the Maleficent sequel and a years-in-the-making Cleopatra project that may finally come to fruition, the Oscar and Golden Globe winner vulnerably expressed hope that she'd one day be accepted as a full-time filmmaker.
"At some point, I'll probably just direct. If I'm allowed to," she said. "But you just don't know if you can have a career as a director. You don't know how things are going to be received."
Welcome back, Angelina Jolie. Your story has been waiting for you.