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The Seagull

“If love worms its way into your heart, dig it out.”

ACT IV

A character study in unrequited love with theatrics and the generous bits of creative license, The Seagull delivers with its impeccable acting and adapted screenplay, due to no small measure on the fine source material from Anton Chekhov. This is, interesting, the second recent film (On Chesil Beach) that finds Billy Howle and Saoirse Ronan embroiled in a hopeless quest for love and in both instances there is a paralleling dynamics between the obstinate drive of Howle and an inexplicable restlessness from Ronan that does them in. Analyzed well by Josephine Livingstone: “it is a landmark adaptation that brings out the play’s humor in a way that hasn’t been done before.”

A finely casted lot: with Corey Stoll as Trigorin: “a famous man but a simple soul,” spineless and impetuous—as Anthony Lane (New Yorker) notes, “alerting us to the murmur of predation“—in the end, predictably pathetic.

Elisabeth Moss as Masha, brooding and drinking on the daily as she is forced to carry the burden of her love for Konstantin (Howle)—in the end, burying this disease in the institutional casket of matrimony.

The mother (Irina Arkadina): self-obsessed, incapable of mirroring an ounce of adulation she receives (“I must tell you about the reception I got in Kharkov”) to her son even after he becomes a known writer: “Can you imagine, I still haven’t read anything of his[.]” The film portrays her well thanks to a brilliantly acted role from Annette Bening, coming off another great (and largely overlooked) performance in “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” She plays a center role in the unfolding “hive of shifting loyalt[ies], jealous[ies], and desires” on her brother’s country estate. The centered of the drama and quiet frankly the gears that keep the story captivating. Certainly here the writer, Stephen Karam, expands to build on her vainglorious persona and for good reason with the play remaining abrupt and characteristically underdeveloped.

We saw a similar attempt to adapt Russian source material in Anna Karenina in 2012: the real problem with these efforts is that very few directors can truly encapsulate the spirit of Russian society and its bleak reality, and even fewer of those are from the English-speaking regions of the globe. My view is that any Russian adaptation of the great Russian writers need to be left to the immensely competent Russian directors. American directors have a fumbling incompetence when it comes to melancholy in cinema. Which is why Godfrey Cheshire (Rogert Ebert) is certainly right when he describes The Seagull as “one of those theatrical adaptations that has no reason to exist for any viewer who can recall a superior stage version of the same work.” 

A difficult film to adapt, bur a reminder that the original content being created today in Hollywood doesn’t stand to comparison with the strategy of adapting proven writers. And yet, while already better than the sheer vastness of garbage created by the studios, the critics, with a resounding voice, chalk this film as average (RT AVG: 6.1/10). Chekhov’s description of modern theatre is equally applicable to the modern film critic: “a narrow-minded and predictable ragbag of worn-out routines.” For example, despite the posturing of some (“Chekhov would be appalled“), I went back after watching the film and read the play in its entirety and the source material is remarkably close to the adapted product. It remains unclear whether Calvin Wilson (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) even read the play before writing his opinion concerning Mayer’s seeming “intent on speeding up the story,” since you can read the play in the same time span.

For now, let us run, as Maupassant needed to run, before we’re “crushed by the sheer weight of all that vulgarity.”

RATING: B-

 

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