The last time I saw a movie based on something Russian playwright Anton Chekhov did was Cold Souls (Paul Giamatti) almost 10 years ago (which involved a staging of Uncle Vanya). After that disappointing film and now this, I won’t mind going another 10 years before the next.
Now, this is a handsomely produced piece to watch. The performances are amazing. It’s just that the story continues losing momentum as it goes, and you’re just left not caring about any of these unhappy characters.
Russian literature can be wordy, but this verbose script takes the cake. Theatre lovers that flock to see The Seagull, will merely wish this cast was performing it on the stage.
The story involves a talented writer and wannabe playwright named Konstantin (Billy Howle), who is madly in love with his muse — Nina (Saoirse Ronan, who also plays Howle’s lover in the soon to be released On Chesil Beach). He doesn’t have the best relationship with his mom Irina (Annette Bening), who’s a successful actress. She plays that character wonderfully, just as she did playing actresses in Being Julia and one of my favorite movies from last year — Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.
When Konstantin puts on a small play for family and friends, Irina won’t stop heckling and making comments, ruining the show. To make matters worse, she’s having an affair with a much younger man who’s a successful playwright (Corey Stoll, who’s always a welcome sight in a film). The plot thickens when Nina seems a bit infatuated with him, too. Unrequited love is an unrelenting theme.
Eeyore (Elisabeth Moss) is madly in love with Konstantin, and ignores the suitor that’s constantly starting up conversation with her.
Married housekeeper Mare Winningham moons over bachelor doctor Jon Tenney, but his character now seems to only have eyes for Irina.
Stephen Karam, in his feature film debut, did a serviceably abridged version of the play, but perhaps this is a piece that just doesn’t work on the big screen. Especially when there are a few too many moments of exposition as dialogue. Perhaps understanding more about these characters would’ve made us like one or two of them. Instead, we root for Konstantin early on, until he comes off as a whiney baby. We can’t root for Nina’s romance with Boris, because of the age difference, and how we realize he’s manipulating her. She’s poor, and the idea of becoming a successful actress, probably has a shot if she can get in good with him.
Irina is rather horrible towards her son. Otherwise, we’d feel for the fact that she knows she’s an aging actress that isn’t going to be the best looking person in the room anymore.
The only character we can like is Sorin, the perpetually dying brother of Irina. He’s played by Brian Dennehy and is terrific as always. I haven’t seen him in a movie since Meet Monica Velour eight years ago.
I noticed in the credits that Tom Hulce (Amadeus, Parenthood) is one of the producers. He left acting behind to direct and produce on Broadway. It’s a shame we don’t get to see him on the screen anymore, and I hope the next time he delves into producing plays for the big screen, they work better (although the blame should probably go to director Michael Mayer, who’s worked with Hulce on the stage).
This film will bore most audience members. It’s the type of movie critics are going to praise because it’s a period piece, and they’ve convinced themselves this is what a great film should look like.
This movie doesn’t work as a romance. As a comedy, it’s not funny enough. Just having a stellar cast isn’t enough.
It did inspire me to tackle a screenplay about my bird. It’s going to be called “The Parakeet.”
2 stars out of 5.