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.