Saoirse Ronan and a great cast cannot make ‘The Seagull’ work as a film

Review: Chekhov’s testy play stubbornly refuses to congeal into a movie shape

The official trailer for "The Seagull", starring Saoirse Ronan. Video: Sony Pictures Classics

Saoirse Ronan is this-is-how-you-act-in-Chekhov good. It’s not enough

Film Title: The Seagull

Director: Michael Mayer

Starring: Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Corey Stoll, Elisabeth Moss, Mare Winningham, Jon Tenney, Glenn Fleshler, Michael Zegen, Billy Howle, Brian Dennehy

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 99 min

Tue, Sep 4, 2018, 14:02

   

Famous actress Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) flounces onto her brother Sorin’s country estate with her lover and well-known author Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll) in tow. Irina’s son Constantine (Billy Howle) pines for his neighbour, Nina (Saoirse Ronan), whom he has cast in his experimental play.

Masha (Elizabeth Moss) is so madly in love with Constantine that she’s hitting the vodka at breakfast time: “I’m in mourning. For my life,” she says. The schoolteacher, Medvedenko (Michael Zegen), is madly in love with Masha.

Nina, channelling a far less wily variant of All About Eve’s titular go-getter, is making eyes at Boris: “What’s it like being famous?” she simpers.

Masha’s mother, Polina (Mare Winningham), is madly in love with Doctor Dorn (Jon Tenney), who has other women. Everybody is unhappy. And you thought the albatross was the unluckiest coastline bird.

Saoirse Ronan is so good at her job that she even manages to enliven the bad acting required for Constantine’s densely symbolist – read terrible – play that kick-starts this big screen adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. She’s this-is-how-you-act-in-Chekhov good. Annette Bening is so good at her job that she finds high, broad, laugh-out-loud humour in every line of Michael Mayer’s screenplay.

Elisabeth Moss, normally the most reliable talent in Hollywood, is swallowed by a swampy black dress and a part that requires nothing more than drunken miserablism. Her constant gurning put her at odds with the rest of the cast. Hell, everything is at odds with the rest of the cast.

The male characters are as earnest as the females are pantomime. “I don’t have the power to stop loving you,” gasps a typically anguished Constantine.

This isn’t a movie. It’s tonal warfare. It’s not Moss’ fault. It’s nobody’s fault, There is no definitive screen version of Chekhov’s testy, meta-textual play, The Seagull and with good reason.

Away from the stage – and sometimes on the stage – it’s as mad as a box of frogs. Writer-director Mayer does everything he can to remind you that this is a comedy and everything he can to make it look like a film. But the material stubbornly refuses to congeal into a movie shape. And the constant, desperately overcompensating camera movement makes one want to smash the dolly. The October Revolution can’t come soon enough. 

Opens September 7th