In this Anton Chekhov adaptation of the same name, the country estate that is home to this story is filled with characters, each getting their fair share of time to divulge on their lives, loves, and heart-aches. The lively Irina (Annette Bening), her charming new lover Boris (Corey Stoll), and her brooding aspiring playwright son Konstatin (Billy Howle) pay her brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy) a visit in his luxurious and lavish home. Amongst these folk, a number of burning desires are revealed or emerge: Konstatin is in love with the neighbor Nina (Saoirse Ronan), but she is in love with Boris, while Mikhail (Michael Zegen) is in love with Masha (Elizabeth Moss), but Masha is in love with Konstatin.
A lot of love going on, despite not much of it being requited. And so a good portion of The Seagull inspects the various ways in which these characters accept, deal with, or suffer through their heartaches, at times with horrendous results. But despite the tragedy amongst this ensemble, there’s something clouding our total emotional engagement and their plights.
It’s an issue with this breezy film that is certainly more character driven than story driven, yet these characters don’t quite feel entirely there, despite some terrific acting and the few cleverly written lines and exchanges they have. The greatness of the performances depend on the characters themselves: Bening is quite stunning as Irina, equally happy as she is bored, always eager to capture some sort of excitement within the claustrophobic confines of the estate.
Ronan, on the other hand, feels trapped within Nina, giving a restrained performance that doesn’t offer much deeper. Stoll doesn’t seem like his Boris character can give much either, but works a little better within his limitations. They aren’t wearing their hearts on their sleeves, so this offers some contrast to the other characters, but this film simply works better with the hysterical outbursts of emotion rather than uninteresting teases of inner desires.
Something feels lost in translation with this adaptation, even if The Seagull is an admirable and often amusing film. Its truncation from being converted from a play to a film has very likely sacrificed some of the story’s quality, namely the breadth of this ensemble cast, and makes it feel like we’re watching this play through a hazy fourth wall.