In early 1900s Russia, a wealthy family gets together at their large country estate with friends, lovers and people who may want to become friends or lovers. Jealousy, depression and unrequited love cause severe complications in The Seagull, based on the play by Anton Chekhov. The film has a solid cast and some strong moments, but the staging is very dull. It moves far too slowly to be really effective. The end result is decent, though ultimately forgettable.
Annette Bening stars as Irina, an aging actress desperately clinging to her fame. She arrives at the estate with her lover, Boris (Corey Stoll), a famous writer. This is taken offense to by Irina’s son, Konstantin (Billy Howle), a more ambitious, but far less successful, playwright. He longs for his mother’s approval and is disgusted with her relationship with Boris, who he is either envious of or has no respect for. Konstantin, in turn, is in love with Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a young aspiring actress. Nina then takes an interest in Boris, who immediately becomes fascinated by her. The supporting cast includes more people infatuated with the wrong people (the film is set in Russia; the characters are Russian, but the actors use American accents).
Amazingly, even with all of those romantic and professional conflicts, this version of The Seagull (95 minutes, minus the end credits) fails to rise above mildly interesting. It pretty much just sits on the screen. I am not sure what director Michael Mayer’s strategy was. However, even with all of his cutting between actors during simple dialogue scenes, the movie is very slow. The pacing is so deliberate that it never truly feels like the emotions or tensions are building, though they most certainly are. Maybe Mayer thought it was enough to merely bring this story to the screen with this cast. That was enough to make it watchable, but not nearly enough to make it good.
Annette Bening fares the best as the manipulative and selfish Irina. She comes the closest to actually being allowed to inhabit her role. Brian Dennehy is amusing as her sick brother, Sorin. He gets to be witty and has a couple of entertaining conversations with his sister and nephew. Elisabeth Moss is also very enjoyable as the heartsick and depressed Masha. Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as the younger lovers are less fortunate and Corey Stoll plays a complex character in a production that struggles to make much of his complexities. It is fun to watch them work, even if their performances are mostly wasted.
Unfortunately, none of the actors get to do a whole lot with the characters besides recite their dialogue. At times it plays more like a reading of the play than a movie. Chekhov’s material still impresses, but seeing Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle, who were both so good in the recent On Chesil Beach, along with such talented performers as Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Brian Dennehy and Elisabeth Moss, in a largely passionless and uncreative production is a little disappointing.
2¾ out of 5
Annette Bening as Irina
Billy Howle as Konstantin
Corey Stoll as Boris Trigorin
Saoirse Ronan as Nina
Elisabeth Moss as Masha
Brian Dennehy as Sorin
Mare Winningham as Polina
Directed by Michael Mayer
Screenplay by Stephen Karam