Amidst big-budget summer blockbusters like superhero sequels and a Star Wars prequel comes The Seagull, a modest period piece based on an Anton Chekov play. Don't expect this movie to set any box office records. Likely to get lost in the summer release shuffle, the incredibly esoteric but well-acted movie opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
The movie centers on actress Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening) and her teenage son Konstantin (Billy Howle). The kid aspires to follow in his mother's footsteps but has even loftier ambitions. He criticizes her for acting in insipid comedies and valuing popularity over artistic integrity. This makes their relationship remarkably tense, and the two constantly argue as they spend the summer together at a rural family estate.
When Konstantin directs one of his own plays, and Irina provides color commentary that undercuts it, he takes offense and storms off. She doesn't understand why he's so thin-skinned and tries to make up but to no avail.
It doesn't help that Irina has hooked up with Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), a successful writer who also caters to popular taste. Konstantin regularly clashes with him too.
Things spiral even further out of control after Boris develops feelings for Konstantin's girlfriend Nina (Saoirse Ronan). Nina is clearly starstruck by Boris and tells him as much. He initially dismisses her, telling her that she's naïve and doesn't understand the creative process or appreciate the way that being an author can be both a blessing and a curse. Boris, in fact, regularly takes notes about Irina's family members with the hopes that he'll be able to somehow include them in his next work of fiction. Still, he's flattered that someone as young and beautiful as Nina would find him attractive, and he takes advantage of her desire to impress him.
The love triangle here becomes even more complicated as Masha (Elisabeth Moss) struggles to hide her feelings for Konstantin, who clearly doesn't feel the same way about her. Moss appropriately plays Masha, who wears black, drinks too much and regularly bursts into tears, as a tragically comic character.
As much as the movie's dialogue often feels stilted (that's simply a by product of being based on a play), the sensibilities here are so modern and feel so familiar (jealousy, unrequited love and betrayal are major themes) that they inspire a newfound appreciation of the play. While this movie isn't likely to stay in theaters too long this summer, its arrival is still quite an achievement given the number of times this play has been adapted.