by George Wolf
You love her, but she loves him, and he loves somebody else…
J. Geils may have rocked it up, but Russian playwright Anton Chekov was singing that tune in 1895 with The Seagull. Darker shades pepper the comedic take on unrequited love, and director Michael Mayer is the latest to bring that balancing act to the big screen.
He’s blessed with a wonderful cast. Saoirse Ronan shines again as Nina, a starry-eyed young woman who longs for a life on the stage. Nina’s boyfriend Konstantin (Billy Howle) dreams of writing plays for her, but things get complicated when the couple meets up with family, friends and servants at a country estate in the early 20th century.
Annette Bening, Elisabeth Moss, Corey Stoll, Brain Dennehy and Mare Winngham are customarily wonderful. There’s no denying everyone here is committed, but Mayer and writer Stephen Karam (adapting Chekov) can’t find the balance between comedy and drama, or stage and screen.
The setting is perfectly lush, and the material has certainly lost little of its relevance over the many years, but all the worthy parts are never assembled into anything more than serviceable.
The comedic barbs early on seem too restrained, and the later tragedies too melodramatic. Some staging seems lifted straight from a stage production, while other set pieces breath with more freedom.
Give the relatively inexperienced writer/director team credit for taking on The Seagull. Getting the competing themes to work in unison is no easy feat, and this latest film version is a well-intentioned testament to that very challenge.