THE STORY – “The Seagull” is the heartbreaking and funny story of friends and lovers, all of whom are in love with the wrong person. The movie is timely in its depiction of the tragic consequences of narcissism, particularly on young dreams and romantic love.
THE CAST – Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Billy Howle & Elisabeth Moss
THE TEAM – Michael Mayer (Director & Stephen Karam (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 98 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
What works best on the stage (Or sometimes even on paper) is best left to the stage which is certainly the case with “The Seagull.” As told by director Michael Mayer (Tony winner for directing “Spring Awakening”), this recent adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1896 classic play features a beautiful cast of actors, dressed up in fancy costumes, cast against the backdrop of the lush lakeside Russian estate. However, it’s unfocused, uncinematic and does not update the story well enough to fit in with the climate of the present day.
“The Seagull” takes place over the course of a weekend during the summer at a lakeside Russian estate. Friends and family come together. There’s the ailing patriarch Sorin (Brian Dennehy), his daughter, the aging actress Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) who is in a relationship with famed writer Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll). Irina’s son Konstantin (Billy Howle) is an aspiring playwright who is in love with his muse Nina Zarechnaya (Saoirse Ronan) while the estate’s maid Masha (Elisabeth Moss) secretly loves Konstantin. But that’s not the only complicated relationship going on at the estate. While Konstantin might be infatuated with Nina, she starts to have passionate feelings for Boris despite him being more than twice her age and already with Irina. Tensions rise, truths are revealed, hearts are broken and conversations revolving around purpose and art take place in this adaptation of the classic play by Anton Chekhov.
For as much criticism as I threw towards “Fences” for being uncinematic in its transition from the stage to the screen, “The Seagull” takes that criticism to a whole new level of disaster. Not once in the 98 minute running time, does director Michael Mayer believably make us forget that we are watching a play unfold on screen. Characters are over the top, the storytelling is contrived, actions take place off screen just as they would in the show. But the biggest misstep of all is how unrelatable any of the characters are in their desires and decisionmaking. Maybe if I was watching these characters on stage, played by these actors, I would’ve had a different experience altogether. However, as is, one thing is apparent: the story of these characters falling in and out of love with each other over the course of one weekend is woefully out of step with what modern-day audiences want to see on screen.
Theater lovers will certainly find something to enjoy with “The Seagull,” especially those familiar with the work and who are curious to see these actors take on such iconic roles. All the actors are in fine form and nobody gives a bad performance. Instead, they are maltreated by the film’s direction and bizarre shifts in tone. Is this a comedy? Is it a drama? Is it absurdist fiction? What is even the story? The film starts with a scene which takes place sometime in the future and we eventually arrive there but the film does not do a good job in setting the stage for what is happening, who these characters are and why we should care about them. The odd and idiosyncratic music certainly doesn’t help to establish the film’s mood and all other elements from costume design, cinematography, and art direction never rise to the level of being anything other than simply adequate.
“If you start to feel love in your heart, rip it out,” Elisabeth Moss’ dommed lovestruck maid Masha says in this adaptation of “The Seagull.” I am here to tell you that if you start to feel love for this film, there is no need to rip it out yourself. The film does that enough for you that by the time it ends, we are not left moved, entertained or enlightened. Rather, we are just thankful it is over. Falling in and out of love for these characters might mean everything to their livelihoods but to us, it barely registers.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The performances by the talented cast keep the viewer interested even when everything else does not.
THE BAD – This adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s classic play falters in nearly every area from its transition from page to screen.