The Seagull: Washed Up, by Jeremy Elder
I had high hopes to see what Michael Mayer, an established and respected Broadway director, would be able to bring to a film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. Surely, a former theater student at NYU would be able to provide a rich, artistic take on a historic play like The Seagull. Unfortunately, Mayer seems to have missed the mark, or rather not attempted to hit it at all.
The Seagull has maintained great relevance in the theater world for over a hundred years. However, this is because of the wide arrays of adaptations and interpretations, especially in more recent years. The story of the The Seagull is about an unsuccessful playwright, Konstantin (Billy Howle). He is madly in love with Nina (Saoirse Ronan), who begins to fall in love with a more successful playwright, Trigorin (Corey Stoll). Other instances of unrequited love are at stake, such as Konstantin’s mother (Annette Benning) falling in love with Trigorin, as well as Masha (Elizabeth Moss), who is in love with Konstantin. While the plot is complex, directors have relied on strong relationships and tone to present the script properly. Over the years, the play has gotten darker, placing more emphasis on Konstantin’s attempted suicide and the emotional toll of unrequited love.
Much like Tom Hooper’s direction of Les Miserables, Michael Mayer had the opportunity to establish how this story will be recorded in pop culture history and, sadly, he decided to present the film as a British period-romance. This already is a problematic way to present a play by a Russian playwright, but that is another discussion in itself. The film was fluffy and serene, modeling the cinematic stylings of films like Pride and Prejudice, or even the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. If the production team was set on doing a period romance, maybe a film like Atonement, would serve as a better model. Cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd definitely had experience in more complex or gritty styles, including Daredevil and the recent Power Rangers movie. I am not calling for an action movie version of The Seagull, but it would create more intrigue than the film in its current standing.
Within its respective genre, The Seagull is not poorly executed. Female performances were very well done, with specific praise to Elizabeth Moss in her supporting role as Masha. Cinematography and scoring were very effective in creating the world and feeling of a British estate (again, Russian play). What I mean to say is the film is not bad, and I’m sure many will enjoy the film. However, the play does not fit well into this genre and it has instead been washed away into a sea of period romances likely to be forgotten in just a few months.