Movie Review - The Seagull (2018)

The one thing that Hollywood likes is movies about itself, movies about Hollywood or movies about movies or movies about movie-making. The Artist (2011) and La La Land (2016) are recent examples of Oscar-winning titles that meet that standard. A large subject of that are movies about the creative people therein, such as movies about artists like actors or musicians, and those creative people struggling to make their art and achieve some kind of success, if not the ultimate success of fame and stardom. Centuries ago before movies, there were stage plays and one thing the makers of plays loved were plays about plays or plays about making plays or creative people therein. Of course, we can go all the way back to William Shakespeare's Hamlet or even further. This film in that regard can be placed squarely in the same category, as it is an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's 1895 play about a house full of creative people struggling to create their art and achieve success.

Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right and American Beauty) stars as Irina Arkadina, an aging actress in Russia who is well known and is a headliner at the Imperial Theatre in Moscow, but she worries she's getting over the hill, even though she refuses to acknowledge the passage of time on herself. She does fear of being passed over for someone younger, both personally and professionally. As such, she constantly puts others who are younger down, condescends or insults them in subtle ways.

Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird and Atonement) also stars as Nina Zarechnaya, a young aspiring actress whom is the kind of person that Irina fears. Nina, however, isn't too concerned about acting or the talent of it. She simply wants the fame and the celebrity. Initially, she attaches herself to Irina's son who is himself a burgeoning playwright, but then she comes to see that Irina's son might not be enough to get her to stardom, at least not as fast as she wants to become.

Billy Howle (On Chesil Beach and Dunkirk) co-stars as Konstantin Treplyov, the boy in question, the aforementioned, Irina's son. He likes to write plays. He also plays music. It's obvious that he is very sensitive about his art and takes it more seriously than Nina. He's not in it for fame and celebrity. He's also a very passionate lover and his love is very deeply felt, which means he easily gets jealous or depressed if he thinks the objects of his affections are being taken.

Corey Stoll (Ant-Man and Midnight in Paris) also co-stars as Boris Trigorin, a famous writer who in late 19th century Russia is considered a celebrity. He's been very successful, but he's haunted by the need to keep writing to keep being successful. He feels pursuing that has robbed him of enjoying life as it were. He's also getting older and feeling some of the same things as Irina, but he's not on stage, so he doesn't get the kind of gratification that Irina can get. He feels like maybe he has to get it elsewhere.

At the heart of the film, it's grappling with the notion of art and artistry. Questions that underlie include what is art and what is good art, as well as what is talent and what is good talent. However, the thrust of this film isn't those questions at all. The thrust of this film, as I'm sure was the same in Chekhov's play, is the theme of unrequited love. Several of the characters in this narrative suffer unrequited love or romantic interest in someone who doesn't return that interest or feel it back.

Director Michael Mayer who's 57 and from Bethesda, Maryland, is known more for his work for directing Broadway plays and musicals. He won the Tony Award for Spring Awakening. He was also nominated for A View From the Bridge. Given Chekhov's source material, Mayer is able to handle it, juggling the half-dozen or so characters but also properly accentuating each one in lovely and warm ways. Not that it wholly matters but Mayer is gay and when it comes to accentuating particular characters, it's the men who get the loveliest and warmest of touches.

Chekhov's play perhaps stacks the deck in favor of the men. In the cases of Konstantin and Boris, each of those two men have two women potentially in love with them. The one possible exception is Irina but one of the two men in love with her is her son, Konstantin, so it's not quite the same. When it comes to Boris, Mayer's camera is in love with Stoll as it provides close-ups and point-of-view close-ups on a boat that really show the affection for the very handsome man.

Another scene, which provides a close-up of Stoll, is also about the love and affection for Boris. It also gives an opportunity for Bening to shine in a heartbreaking monologue. It's a scene that's multilayered because not only is it about Bening's character Irina expressing her desire for Boris but also it's her trying to protect her son, Konstantin who views Boris as a threat.

The characters are confined to one house. Irina has to make a choice for them to stay or leave, and the film does a good enough job of making that choice somehow life or death. Needless to say, the concept of Chekhov's gun is utilized here. Yet, the film isn't so serious. There is humor. A good chunk of it comes from Masha, played by Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale and Mad Men). Masha is a servant who has unrequited love for Konstantin and how she deals with that is quite funny.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, a scene of violence, drug use and partial nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.

In Select Cities, including Baltimore, DC and Philly.


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