The Seagull Review | Tribeca 2018
PG-13: Some mature thematic elements, a scene of violence, drug use, and partial nudity.
Sony Pictures Classics
1 Hr and 30 Minutes
Dir: Michael Mayer | Writer: Stephen Karam
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Billy Howle, Elisabeth Moss, Jon Tenney, Brian Dennehy, Mare Winningham, Glenn Fleshler, Michael Zegen
An aging actress named Irina Arkadina pays summer visits to her brother Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin and her son Konstantin on a country estate. On one occasion, she brings Trigorin, a successful novelist, with her. Nina, a free and innocent girl on a neighboring estate, falls in love with Boris Trigorin. As Trigorin lightly consumes and rejects Nina, so the actress all her life has consumed and rejected her son, who loves Nina. The victims are destroyed while the sophisticates continue on their way.
Finally, a 19th Century drama and it’s not way far up its own ass. Based on Anton Chekhov’s beloved play, this feature adaptation is a ton of fun. I never expected this to be a comedy for the most part so when I received my first belly laugh, I was surprised because it became consistent and then I realized, “Wait, I’m watching a comedy?” “YES! A COMEDY!” Since director Michael Mayer has directed a good amount of Broadway plays in his career, his biggest strength to this adaptation is his direction of the large ensemble cast performing as these characters with vibrant personalities.
This is a messy household where people are in different relationships but in the most soap opera way imaginable. You have this guy who is dating this woman but is attracted to this girl who's dating this guy; meanwhile, he has an admirer. The summer home that Irina and her son Konstantin stay in is as absurd as your average extended family. The humor is as absurd as a Wes Anderson film mixed with “The Addams Family” and occasionally “Family Guy”. What keeps you entertained is each character and their personality.
Irina (Bening) is a classic theater actress who behaves very similarly to your stereotypical attention-seeking celebrity who has no filter and won’t give anyone else the limelight (not even her own son Konstantin).
Konstantin (Howle) is a damaged playwright whose mother is condescending towards him which causes him to be a bit suicidal and weird. It affects his relationship with Nina in the worst way.
Nina (Ronan) is a naive and innocent young performer who dreams of fame and fortune and is enamored with Boris.
Boris is a beloved poet who is dating Irina but is getting attracted to Nina and smooth talks his way into her pants.
Masha (Moss) is the goth girl who is in love with Konstantin because he’s a tortured soul and she connects with his poems.
Then you have plenty of other smaller actors who have their quirks and add to the comedic drama. The entire cast is a joy to watch on screen because they’re all distinctly quirky, but Annette Bening always stole the show. You can tell that Bening had a lot of fun playing this eccentric and self-centered has-been actress because every scene that she’s in, Bening brings life and heart even though she’s a heartless character. Irina embodies all the characteristics of Blanche from “A Streetcar Named Desire”, and “Florence Foster Jenkins” where she thinks she’s the best but you at the same time believe that at one point in her career she was.
The only character that seems at least a bit sane is Boris who is calm, reserved, and actually knows a thing or two about life. This is his first time at the house with Irina and most of the time he’s there, he’s writing down his observations and his observations are the same as the audiences’.
As much as the film focuses on being more funny than dramatic, the story’s epilogue is organically dramatic and features a heavily emotional scene between Howle and Ronan. It feels as if every movie I see Ronan in, she is
I’m not even just saying this because of my attachable love for “Lady Bird”, but Saoirse Ronan is just such a great actress who knows how to deliver performances that send shivers down your spine. Little Hanna is all grown up.
“The Seagull” is a Russian play written by a Russian playwright. The movie itself takes place in Russia. Absolutely none of the characters speak in a Russian accent. As a matter of fact, everyone either speaks in a British accent or their American one. The only actress who isn’t using her native accent is Saoirse Ronan. If you’re going to set this film with a prominently international cast, either commit to your setting and have them do the accents or change the setting.
Narrative-wise there isn’t much of a story other than this silly soap opera drama between all of these characters. But, if you look at this from a comedic perspective, it’s undoubtedly an entertaining watch. As much as you’re entertained by these actors portraying these characters, you just can’t help but wonder “What is this movie about? Is it about these quirky characters being weird because if that’s the case, I could've been watching something like "Grand Budapest Hotel’ which does fully commit to the authenticity of its setting while having a consistent tone.”
This movie is one of many film adaptations of Chekhov’s play but, from what I heard, every single incarnation of it was both shallow and bland. Granted, this is shallow given a lot of characters being expressively selfish, but at the same time there is a bit of charm to them.
With a charismatically fun ensemble cast and a witty script that is faithful to Chekhov's work, “The Seagull” is a thoroughly entertaining period piece comedy given if you can move past the absence of accents.
Rating: 3.5/5 | 78%
Super Scene: Irina manipulatively gets Boris to stay.