The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE SEAGULL | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE SEAGULL

the seagull movie review
Family and friends gather at the estate of a Russian stage star.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Mayer

Starring: Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Corey Stroll, Brian Dennehy, Michael Zegen, Mare Winningham

the seagull movie poster

Director Michael Mayer and screenwriter Stephen Karam's take on Anton Chekhov's 1895 play The Seagull makes it a 2018 double whammy of misfiring literary adaptations starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as young, doomed lovers. The first was the awful On Chesil Beach, adapted by Ian McEwan from his own novel, so McEwan only has himself to blame. Poor old Anton however must be turning in his grave at how his meaty drama has been butchered and served up as a plate of sliders.

the seagull movie review

Howle and Ronan play Constantine, a pretentious writer, and Nina, his equally untalented actress muse. The movie opens with the two performing a painfully bad stage production penned by the former and acted out in a hamfisted manner by the latter. The whole debacle provokes much sarcasm from Constantine's mother, Irina (Annette Bening), a star of the Moscow stage who has gathered various family members and friends at the sprawling country estate of her brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy).

Among the assembled guests are Boris (Corey Stoll), an up and coming literary star whom Irina has her romantic sights on, but who falls head over heels for Nina; Masha (Elisabeth Moss), a 19th century goth suffering from her unrequited love for Constantine; Mikhail (Michael Zegen), a nebbishy teacher madly in love with Masha; and various other underdeveloped characters, including Mare Winningham as Masha's mother. All involved are reductively defined by whom they happen to have the hots for, and we don't learn much else about anyone beyond their libidos.

the seagull movie review

There are two levels of cultural appropriation at play here. The obvious bear in the barn is that this is a classic piece of Slavic literature adapted by and for a western audience. Mayer and Karam keep the play's 1890s Russian setting, but all the American actors speak in their own accents while those from the British Isles adopt generic American twangs. White people from the East and the West may share a pigmentation, but little else, and you can't just pop a Californian into the role of a Muscovite. The result is a movie I never once remotely believed was taking place in the Russia of the late 19th century, which begs the question why the story couldn't have simply been relocated to the Hamptons, and perhaps go one step further with a contemporary setting.

Then there's the appropriation of a stage play to the screen, something filmmakers have struggled with since the dawn of cinematic storytelling. Despite his background on the stage, Mayer attempts to add a cinematic gloss to his adaptation, but this manifests itself in a jerky, inattentive approach that never allows his cast to settle into their roles. When his camera isn't floating around distractedly like a seagull in search of crumbs, his editing bench is chopping up conversations and monologues into bite-size chunks, as though he's a mother attempting to force an infant to eat their greens. Who does Mayer think his audience is? If you've come for a Chekhov adaptation I think you're willing to accept long takes.

the seagull movie review

Chekhov's comedy fails to translate to both the screen and to the mouths of the western cast, and gags fall embarrassingly flat. The Seagull is crammed with acting talent, but only Dennehy, Stoll and Winningham emerge with any dignity. Managing to get such awful performances from a trio of actresses as talented as Bening, Ronan and Moss is quite the achievement, and watching them drown in the quicksand of this terribly rendered film will have you following the lead of one of its characters in reaching for Chekhov's gun. With Anglo-Russian relations at such an all-time low, this could plunge us right back into the cold war.

The Seagull is in UK/ROI cinemas September 7th.