More often than not books make its way to the screen. There’s no doubt a great deal of books are written with the idea of an onscreen adaptation, Dan Brown. Rarely do you see a stage play make it to the screen unless it’s a musical that absolutely everyone adores, Chicago or Les Misérables. Every now and then someone has the idea that something written for the stage can be adapted to the screen. And every now and then they are very very wrong, and The Seagull is a perfect example of when things should be left as the great thing that they are.
Based on the works of playwright, Anton Chekhov all the way back from 1958. It would be fair to say this was a time when the theatre was ripe with stories designed specifically for the stage alone. However, Director Michael Mayer decided it was a dandy idea to try his luck adapting The Seagull to the screen.
There are many plays that have been adapted to the screen that weren’t loved musicals and worked superbly. These usually take a small part of the stage production and run with that rather than the whole thing. They twist and turn that small concept of the play to create something truly unique for the screen, Swan Lake.
Where The Seagull falls down is it feels like writer Stephen Karam tried to write the play to simply put on the screen. The acting is over the top, a perfect fit for the stage. The sets are minimal and at times a tad bland, something that would also work for the stage. Nothing about The Seagull works for the screen, to the point that you are left thinking why exactly this ever needed to be created.
The Seagull is an intimate look at the complicated relationships within a family, specifically four main characters: a mother and her son, the son and his mother’s boyfriend and the mother’s boyfriend and the son’s girlfriend. It’s about love and lust, trust and comfort and control and belonging. At it’s true core it’s about family and the things you will or won’t do for them.
One warm summer actress Irana (Annette Bening) goes to visit her brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and her son Mikhail (Michael Zegen) in their country home. Irana has taken her new boyfriend, Novelist Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll) on this trip of whom Mikhail has taken a disliking to.
Mikhail has written a play of which will be performed for his family and friends one warm summers night with his girlfriend, Nina (Saoirse Ronan) cast as the lead. Either by jealousy or absolute boredom Irana starts to make comments during the performance. Mikhail stops the show half way through and sends everyone home only to stay out in the woods contemplating the evening.
Avoiding his confrontational mother and her boyfriend, Mikhail stays out of sight even from his girlfriend Nina who has taken a boat ride on the lake with Boris Trigorin. The two immediately hit it off much to the dismay of Irana and Mikhail.
Irana abruptly calls her trip short and demands to leave immediately when she realises of the relationship between Boris Trigorin and Nina. Boris and Nina share a kiss before he leaves.
Moving ahead Sorin has fallen ill and Irana comes to visit him as the news isn’t great. Mikhail has written a play and the critics haven’t been kind. Nina has secretly come to visit and shares her story of the complicated relationship she had with Boris Trigorin. Mikhail struggles with the complications of his relationship with his mother and her boyfriend in addition to the troubled past he has with Niana and decides he can no longer take it.
The one thing this movie does well is have exceptionally well-developed characters. Because of the diverse and developed characters the dialogue between the them is filled with substance and understanding. A trait of playwright Chekhov that otherwise would have left the film ultimately flopping.
When it comes to the actor’s performances it is hard to tell if the direction was to over perform these characters as if they were on the stage and needed to exaggerate everything. Annette Bening was a great example of this. Over delivering her lines and taking over the scenes is what would be expected from a stage actress. However, in scenes where this wasn’t called for her performance took away from the connection you might have otherwise had.
This is a classic case of when things don’t quite adapt as one would have hoped. In the end there was so much happening between each of the many well-developed characters. It started to lose itself and become complicated and overfilled to be able to connect with or follow. There was so much more that could have been done with this film should writer Stephen Karam have adapted it more creatively for the screen rather than just rewrite it as it was.
Review by Jay Cook
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