Based on the classic fin de siècle play by Anton Chechov, Michael Mayer’s adaptation of The Seagull is a stylishly staged and gorgeously shot period piece. This is a bit surprising from a director whose last theatrical credit was the 2006 horse sudser, Flicka. But while the film has a visual panache and a sense of professionalism and charm from some of its cast, as a whole, The Seagull lacks any real consistency in its performances or its storytelling.
For the most part, the film revolves around a family and its acquaintances who are entangled in their various loves and jealousies with one another. The cast includes the ambitious but artistically obstinate young playwright Konstantin (Billy Howle, The Sense of an Ending); his pompous, coldhearted mother (Annette Bening); her famous writer boyfriend Boris (Corey Stoll, Ant-Man); and the young woman both he and Konstantin are infatuated with, Nina (Saoirse Ronan).
As I said, the photography cinematography is gorgeous, and the camerawork fluid and slick. But this isn’t quite enough to push the film toward greatness. I did find the first half of the film to be a bit tedious as a lot of it is used solely to set up the characters and the tangled nature of their intersecting desires. But the film does take a darker turn toward the midpoint, one that ups the stakes for the characters and feels reminiscent of the middle climax of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997).
And while this part of the film does crank up the urgency of the narrative, it also sends the movie toward full-on melodrama. As someone who generally appreciates melodrama, The Seagull never quite strikes the appropriate tone to make such a delicate balance work. In an attempt to undercut the stodginess found in a lot of period pieces, the film goes for a more casually modern sensibility in its acting, something that brings a certain unevenness. While Howle, Ronan and Bening all seem to belong within the world of the movie, Stoll and Elisabeth Moss feel as if they’ve been plopped into the middle of the movie in period clothes.
None of this really wrecks the movie, specifically because the ways in which the characters dovetail is entertaining enough. But it can be a bit distracting, especially once the heavy drama sets in and the characters’ motivations start to feel more strained and silly. There’s still enough of a magnetism to the majority of the cast to be worth the time if you have an interest in this style of movie. It’s just missing a certain cohesion that leaves it flawed, yet interesting. Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic elements, a scene of violence, drug use, and partial nudity. Opens Friday, July 6 at The Grail Moviehouse.