The Seagull is a subtle, star-studded Chekhov adaptation thats unbalanced by one cartoonish performance
THE SEAGULL (Michael Mayer). 98 minutes. Opens Friday (May 11). See listing. Rating: NNNYou know how a chain is only.
THE SEAGULL (Michael Mayer). 98 minutes. Opens Friday (May 11). See listing. Rating: NNN
You know how a chain is only as strong as its weakest link? Well, it turns out that applies to casts in all-star adaptations of classic cinema. One bad note can threaten the whole symphony. Am I mixing metaphors? Yes, I am.
The Seagull is a new film adaptation of Anton Chekhovs classic play about the emotional tangles of an extended family in the Russian countryside. Its also a rare foray into moviemaking from Tony-winning stage director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening), whos dabbled in television but hasnt made a feature film since 2006s forgettable Flicka.
Mayer doesnt have a particularly cinematic vision hes much more interested in performance than in presentation or pacing but thats not necessarily a weakness, especially in a story that unfolds entirely around a country house. Why not just focus on the actors?
And its hard to fault him, with the cast hes assembled: Annette Bening is Moscow stage diva Irina and Brian Dennehy her ailing brother, Sorin Elizabeth Moss is the depressive, lovelorn Masha, Corey Stoll is Irinas lover Trigorin and On Chesil Beach co-stars Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan as Irinas playwright son Konstantin and his beloved, aspiring actor Nina. (Jon Tenney, Mare Winningham and Glenn Fleshler also turn up in small but key roles.)
For the most part, they deliver. Bening and Dennehy establish an utterly convincing sibling rhythm despite a 20-year age difference, Moss and Stall are casually terrific, giving line readings that feel naturalistic and relatable without seeming too contemporary, and Ronan finds a tentative take on Nina that makes the easily swayed ingenue seem far more conflicted than she might otherwise have.
But Howle gravely miscalculates Konstantins indignant anger at the hypocrisy and crassness he sees everywhere surrounded by subtle performances, he chooses the full Redmayne, bugging his eyes and hissing his disapproval in an almost cartoonish fashion.
Its a bad choice and worse, Mayer doesnt protect him, which threatens to derail the movie and winds up muting the power of Chekhovs finale. Never go full Redmayne, kids. Let this be a lesson to you.