Sydney Film Festival Review: The Seagull (USA, 2018) is a charming bore

Despite scene-swallowing work from Annette Bening (fabulous, as to be expected), the quiet mastery of Saoirse Ronan, and a brilliantly comical Elisabeth Moss, Michael Mayer‘s The Seagull (adapted from Anton Chekhov‘s classic play) fails to deliver them material worthy of their considerable talent.

The story has all the right ingredients to be a farce of sorts, and there are the briefest of moments that the film succumbs to its convenient plotting and earns a hefty chuckle or two from its audience, but far too often does it bog itself under a script that refuses to ignite in the manner the story so clearly deserves.

Bening’s celebrated, and highly ego-centric, actress Irina Arkadina is at the centre of The Seagull‘s proceedings, with her latest acclaimed turn being cut short when she learns of the ailing health of her brother Sorin (a neatly subdued Brian Dennehy).  Rushing home to be by his side, her visit prompts a memory recall from two years prior when she was at extreme odds with her aspiring writer son Konstantin (Billy Howle) and was in the midst of a tryst with celebrated novelist Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll).

Jealousy abounds as Konstantin openly detests Boris over his success, whilst falling madly in love with hopeful actress Nina Zarechnaya (Ronan), who in turn lusts for Boris.  If that love (insert shape here) isn’t enough, Konstantin continually shuts down the romantic advances of openly drunkard Masha (Moss), who repeats in the same manner to her would-be suitor (Michael Zegen).

The scenes involving Moss, nearly stumbling out of frame due to her Masha’s excessive drinking (“My foot’s asleep” she proclaims, as to cover her reasoning for a stumbled walk), are those that make this lull of a film almost watchable.  So too when Bening allows herself to be at her most self-absorbed (“I could play a girl of almost 15” she is once overheard bragging), but these scenes are few and far between.  And it’s not as if the surrounding moments are horribly acted (we could do without Mare Winningham‘s constant crying though), they’re just unable to muster up enough interest for us to truly care about what’s going on.

A charming bore is probably the best way to describe The Seagull, a film that ultimately can’t escape its playwright mentality.  The acting, the metaphors, the melodrama…it’s all so suitable to the story, but not once does it feel authentic enough to transcend the pages it was adapted from.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Seagull is screening as part of the Sydney Film Festival.  Head HERE for tickets and more details.