Review: The Seagull

Title:  The Seagull
Rating: PG-13
Director: Michael Mayer
Starring:  Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

What It Is: One summer at a lakeside Russian estate, friends and family gather for a weekend in the countryside. While everyone is caught up in passionately loving someone who loves somebody else, a story unfolds about art, fame, parents and children, and human absurdity.

What We Think: The works of Anton Chekhov don’t adapt comfortably to movies, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. This time it was Michael Mayer having a go with this one The film casts Annette Bening as the arrogant, aging stage actress Irina Arkadina, Saoirse Ronan as the naive country beauty Nina, and Elisabeth Moss as bitter Masha, dressed in black “in mourning for my life.” Mayer is a celebrated theater director with more than 30 stage productions under his belt. This is his first attempt to film a play and it shows.

The setting is a country estate near Moscow, where Irina and her new lover, Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a celebrated and much younger writer, have repaired to be with her ailing brother (Brian Dennehy). Irina’s son, Konstantin (Billy Howle), is as impassioned and absurdly idealistic as a young man can be; he writes appalling symbolist plays and is in love with Nina, who is in love with Trigorin, who is in love with himself. (True love in Chekhov is the farce that never happens with the person who’s least right for you.) In spite of this, “The Seagull” is a comedy — it just laughs very darkly and with a kind of hard altruism at the mess we make of things.

Bening gives a lustrous performance that lets you see every side of Irina’s monstrous and pitiable ego, and Ronan covertly lets corruptive ambition slide into Nina’s girlishness. Stoll’s Trigorin is a playful destroyer, and his scenes with the two women are tricky displays of manipulation and self-serving fantasy. Moss is just fantastic, brutally caustic in her too-few scenes as Masha. The cast can’t be faulted. If only the filmmaking would let them be. Instead, Mayer and his cinematographer send the camera swooping and diving among the characters, cluttering up Chekhov’s lethal gaze. The editing is sometimes startlingly clumsy but the saving grace is the score by Nico Muhly and Anton Sanko.

Our Grade: E, The three-hour play has been condensed down to a speedy 98 minutes, which really doesn’t allow for the necessary dramatic stewing —.Basically, we never get any feeling of what’s going on in the characters’ heads, either because the pacing and structure leave them all feeling a bit dazed and lost, or because the performers tend to remain locked into the most superficial treatment of most of their lines. This is the worst kind of tepid middlebrow mediocrity, it’s boring, forgettable sludge, much closer to the worst possible version of itself than the best.

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Lee Rothery Written by: