‘The Seagull’ is perpetually unhappy, failing to resonate

The first rate cast can’t save it


Everybody in The Seagull is unhappy-and I don’t mean a slight unhappiness. I’m talking pure misery.

Constantine (Billy Howle) hates (aka envies) the success of playwright and author Boris (Corey Stoll) while pining for the attention of Nina (Howle’s On Chesil Beach co-star, Saoirse Ronan), who adores Boris. Marsha (Elizabeth Moss) is perpetually unhappy, preferring an unkempt look and a flask of whiskey, because she’s in love with Constantine and he won’t even acknowledge her existence, but school teacher Mikhail (Michael Zegen) thinks she’s great–to no avail.

They all reside under the hot air balloon presence of Irina (Annette Bening), an accomplished actress who imprisons her company in countless tales about how great and important she is. Lost most in her ego is Sorin (Brian Dennehy), the elderly brother on his final legs who just wants to see the city one more time.

There’s a doctor (Jon Kenney), stable hand (Glenn Freischer, who’s in everything), and the head maid (Mare Winningham).

When they all gather at Sorin’s estate, several things come to a head, predictably and melodramatically.

Michael Mayer’s film meanders in the fast lane of the 20th Century’s rich and lustful, showing us hollow souls with no backbone or reason to command your attention or respect. Watching this movie is like going to a rich person’s house in Ladue and being told not to drink or complain, just observe.

A great cast is mostly wasted, stuck playing to their tired strengths in a script that could have used a shuffle. Bening is a talented actress, but she seems to play one speed these days: the aging woman who wants to stay young. Blah.

Dennehy, Kenney, Winningham, and Ronan aren’t necessarily bad, but they don’t linger long after the credits roll. They serve a purpose as in fill this space and read lines.

Howle and Ronan had chemistry in On Chesil Beach, but they weren’t playing mere caricatures in that heartbreaking film. Here, they are sworn yet torn lovers trying to resist the easy urge to break bad or take a shortcut to love. We watched this already in a better film.

Stoll and Moss fare the best, because they play against type and have room to run around in the role. Boris is a great writer, but a chained up soul who has a weakness for strong women-and Stoll taps into that easily. Moss embraces the futility of Marsha’s existence, creating a few spare laughs amid the seriousness of the plot. I wanted these two to run off together and start their own movie.

Stephen Karam’s screenplay was based off Anton Chekhov’s play, so the morose attitude should be expected. Chekhov was one of six siblings growing up, so some of these stories are probably true. I just wish this one had more purpose and more of the actors weren’t playing in their safe zones.

I didn’t hate The Seagull. I just forgot about it quickly after I left the theater. Like the love between two people in this world, the desire I had wasn’t really genuine or strong enough to care about what happened next to these characters.

Perhaps if Mayer had taken the classic play and turned it into a dark comedy instead of playing it completely straight. Maybe that would have created more of a spark and less restlessness.

In the end, a fine cast is wasted in a forgettable drama about unhappy rich people.

‘On Chesil Beach’ provokes thought on an uncomfortable subject

Uncomfortably numb to your feelings, the movie breaks ground

What is a marriage without intimacy?

Edward (Billy Howle) and Florence (Saoirse Ronan) are newlyweds spending their big night on a romantic island called Chesil Beach. For most couples, this would represent the most exotic getaway, like climbing into a painting and escaping the rigors of the world. For Edward and Florence, it becomes a trial by fire where their past, present, and proposed future will be dissected and observed.

In other words, they have a big fight that brings to light a lot of uncomfortable truths about how men, women, marriage, and sex are supposed to go together-and what happens when the spark just isn’t there.

Welcome to On Chesil Beach, a challenging and heartfelt new film that should get you talking.

It’s always a trustworthy sign when you see a book adapted for the big screen by the same person. Ian McEwan wrote the bittersweet love story in 2007, and it’s his hands on the screenplay that first time director Dominic Cooke places a classy touch on for the theater version. Taking a story from the page to the visual screen is never a bumpy road, but with a tale like this, the director can manage the ride even with bald tires.

It helps that the actors bring their potent A-game to the screen. Ronan just dazzled us with her witty portrayal of teenage rebellion in Greta Gerwig’s Oscar darling, Lady Bird and captured our hearts with the enigmatic love story, Brooklyn, as well as Atonement. Here, she settles easily into Florence’s habitat, a woman defined by her past, which included a fairly conventional and strict upbringing.

Florence’s upbringing clashes with the unconventional past of Edward, who is besieged with innocence by Howle, who looks like the long lost brother of Daniel Bruhl. While Edward has plenty of dialogue, Howle’s best moments are when he lets his highly expressive face do some of the heavy lifting, especially in the second half of the film. You may know and adore Ronan, but you’ll leave wanting to see more of Howle. He carries the final third of the film, when all the weight of the film’s big themes start to settle.

You see, Florence grew up where the grass grew nearly as tall as the money that it surrounded, while Edward was riddled with an overworked father and two sisters who had to help with a mother struggling with brain damage. He’s more dirt under his fingernails, but has a love for history, music, and wildlife. In a way, he’s a wilbury cut off from his band of rebels, trying to track down innocence.

He found it in Florence, a classical violinist who dreams of playing in the neighborhood theater and making it as a musician. While the film takes off on their awkwardly cluttered wedding night, the story takes us back to their upbringing and shows us not only how they, but how they grew closer together.

Everything comes to a head at Chesil Beach. If you think you know where it’s going from the trailer, think again. This isn’t Desperate Housewives, the 1962 version. What transpires between Edward and Florence that night will define the rest of their lives, and the film does a great job of keeping you off balance during the first hour before anything big happens.

For me, a late scene between an older man at a record shop and a young girl who seems overly familiar broke my heart, and this is where Howle’s restrained and understated approach paid off so well. In this short scene, the entire movie floods over your emotions. You won’t understand heartache until you watch this movie.

I respect On Chesil Beach’s brave storytelling and the ability to ignite a conversation about how sexual desires played out back in the 1960’s and the effect it could have on a couple people from different backgrounds. This is the kind of story and film that McEwan needed to write, the kind of tale a scribe must get out of his head. It’s also the perfect fodder for a romantic drama on the big screen.

There’s nothing fancy about love, and that’s how Cooke and McEwan treat the characters. Unlike most creators, they won’t cater to how the audience wants a story to end. Their biggest concerns are staying true to the characters they created. I respected the bravery of this film, even if a late moment gave me an urge to reconsider.

The way the film balances a rock n’ roll soundtrack, which is Edward’s speed for life, to the classical and restrained music, which is what defines Florence, is extremely well done.

Life is defined by choice, which can be triggered by desire. Your need to want something will force a decision to be made going one way or another. I liked how On Chesil Beach got me thinking about choice, marriage, and the effect it can have on a life 10, 20, or even 40 years later.

An unconventional love story that spans nearly 45+ years, On Chesil Beach will challenge you, provoke a reaction, and start a conversation about what a marriage could-and could not-live without.

Pulse-pounding and romantic, ‘Adrift’ captivates you

An exceptionally done true story with feeling

For Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley), drifting through life at the age of 24 was something she chose to do. She wore the freedom like a shield of honor hanging on her shoulder. With a broken home and high school behind her, the teenage Tami left San Diego, California to go find a life on the great open sea.

She eventually found love in the equally free-spirited sailing Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), as well as a catastrophic hurricane a few months after it. Even Tami didn’t want to drift as much as she did after the hurricane wrecked her boat.

Baltasar Komakur’s Adrift details the true story of how a courageous woman reacted to having a storm rip through life, stranding her at sea. Using the same thrilling high-wire survival techniques he brought to the similarly powerful true story in 2016’s Everest, Komakur never allows the camera to stray too far from Woodley’s Tami. It’s her show and the actress owns it.

If you think you know what kind of talent Woodley is, pulling from doomed projects like the Divergent series or her solid work in HBO’s Big Little Lies or The Spectacular Now, rethink that notion. The 26-year-old actress officially arrives with this tough role, which calls for Woodley to tap into every single emotion you can imagine. What if you met the love of your life and thought anything was possible, even sailing across the world on a boat? She makes you believe and connect to that emotion. I’ve long adored the actress, but this performance is something else. She commits mind, body, and soul here. She’s been good before; here, Woodley is great.

Claflin is up to the task in a role that’s not a walk in the park. He holds his own in a role that required a poetic wit along with a handyman’s sea intellect, but one where the actor couldn’t go overboard. Again, you may seem to have a read on the actor from his more popular role in the Hunger Games series, but he turns a new page here, breathing life into a guy who never let a challenge overcome his desire to live life to the fullest.

It is the chemistry that Woodley and Claflin create that makes the film reach a higher level. If you don’t love them nearly as much as they love each other in the film, the story doesn’t resonate as completely. They are the faces of the film with a cast list that doesn’t stretch past ten names. Komakur wisely isolates the action around them, sticking to the story and resisting the urge to stuff the film with unneeded characters. Woodley and Claflin make you believe in Tami and Richard.

The script has three prints on it, but you wouldn’t know it from the execution of the actors. Aaron and Jordan Kandell along with David Branson Smith each lend something unique to the story without simply tirelessly passing the laptop around the room. The moments after the storm where Tami and Richard are battling conditions that eat away at the soul slowly carry restrained yet potent dialogue.

Do yourself a favor and avoid trailers or articles on the film. Allow Tami and Richard’s story to hit you flush like a vicious wave in the middle of the ocean. The less you know, the better the film will hit you. There are certain parts of the climax that will hit you harder if you know little going in other than two lovebirds trying to survive for weeks while stranded 1,500 miles from shore. Like two people set to sail across the sea, only take the essentials into the theater.

If there are more heartbreaking true stories about mother nature and natural disasters pushing humans to the limits, I hope Komakur tackles them. He manages to resist the Michael Bay urge to just stick to the action, instead finding a silver lining between the theatrics and the personal drama. He knows how to make the action strike you in a poignant manner.

Let’s put it this way. There’s a moment at the end of the film with Tami that will just break your heart. Make you sad in a certain way. If Woodley/Claflin don’t light the spark and if Komakur doesn’t allow the chemistry to mature, the moment wouldn’t resonate as much.

I didn’t expect much going in Adrift. Maybe an escapist thriller with a decent lead performance. I ended up getting a lot out of it.

If you want a different kind of date night with your loved one, take him or her to see Adrift, a romantic disaster film-and a powerful true story that moves.

Here’s What I Know, Volume 16: Road trips, hotel gyms, and Cuba

Greetings from Atlanta, Georgia, let’s talk about a few things I know. Topics I am sure about and have no wiggle room on. The die on this hill assembly.

~If people could drive, the world would be a better place. If it’s not construction, it’s someone driving like a fucking asshat and stalling hundreds of people’s days in the process. If you can’t drive a car correctly, stay the hell home. I get it. Driving is hard. Go outside and see how hard it is. People don’t fail their test the first time for no reason. A nine hour trip to Atlanta turned into an 11 hour trip.

~Handcut fries aren’t easy to perfect. You can’t half-ass the fries. There’s nothing worse than a flimsy fry. I want French FRIED! Fry those potatoes. Fry em good! Edibles and Essential on Hampton does this perfectly. Other spots…do not.

~I know Ozzie Smith is a legend, but I still liked Edgar Renteria better. That lazy looking bastard could pick it and drive in 100 runs. He was clutch too.

~Unpopular opinion, part 2: I liked Gary Gaetti more than Scott Rolen. Gary looked like a truck driver woke up on a baseball field. He also won four gold gloves and could swing the bat.

~The new movie, Adrift, works because you really believe Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin’s characters are in love. Without that connection, the true story fails.

~Women may not want to hear this, but you look better with less makeup and prep. Raw beauty is underrated.

~Burgers where the bread outweighs the meat are bush league offerings.

~Marcell Ozuna had 14 home runs on this date last season. He has 4 today. Swing alternation or not, the Cardinals didn’t trade for 65% singles. Get it going. The “it’s only such and such date” excuse period is over.

~Alexander Ovechkin is two wins away from his first cup. I’m thrilled for one of the best scorers of all time.

~Fuck You, Michael Rotundo. Have you heard about this 30-year-old fuckstick who had to be evicted by his parents from their home in New York? True story that is getting too much press. A millennial who won’t work, pay child support, or be useful getting handouts from strangers. What a grade A waste of space.

~Does Alex James really think Sandy Hook didn’t happen? If so, hit him in the head with a hammer and ask him again.

~Everest is an underrated movie. True story about Rob Hall and company. Same director as Adrift.

~Rene Knott and Frank Cusumano are good dudes that I’m proud to call colleagues. They also need their own podcast.

~Billions is the best shot on television and it’s not even close.

~In two days, I’ll be on a cruise ship to Havana, Cuba and the Bahamas. First time I’ve left the USA. I have no idea what to expect. St. Louis is what I know.

~Makers Mark is my go-to drink out right now-unless Tank 7 is on tap.

~Go watch Major League now.

~Wherever I go, I need a coffee joint and a gym. That’s it. Please hotels, give me a decent gym to get a workout in. You’re supporting health.

~Movies that get better every time: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Silver Linings Playbook.

That’s it. I need to sleep before another 11 hour trip tomorrow. I’m taking my talents to South Beach.

Goodnight and take luck,