Watching Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle reunite in The Seagull, I was confronted with flashbacks of On Chesil Beach, the tedious melodrama from earlier this year, which had them fighting over their sex life, or lack thereof. That was a laborious affair, and so too is this. And if their collaborative pendulum swings this way again, I’m out.
Based on a Russian play from the late 1800s, the film is set in the Russian countryside and chronicles one summer in the life of a famous actress and her eccentric family. Their story is told in English, with actors of various nationalities making no attempt to adopt any Russian characteristics whatsoever. It is therefore the audience’s responsibility to suspend disbelief, ignore the conflicting accents and pretend that it doesn’t matter. Perhaps this would be possible with the aid of a good story, or perhaps some engaging characters, or even a total omission of its setting, but instead it is an insipid period drama that plays out as though Robert Altman were adapting The Bold and the Beautiful.
Irina (Annette Bening) is a successful actress who spends her holidays with family in a private wilderness retreat. She is joined by her ageing brother (Brian Dennehy), her lover (Corey Stoll), her son (Howle), his girlfriend (Ronan), her manager (Glenn Fleshler), their housekeeper (Mare Winningham) and her daughter (Elisabeth Moss). Ronan’s Nina is a local girl who initiates a bizarre love triangle. There are a few other characters, but they bare no relevance to this review.
Irina is a typically self-absorbed, egotistical diva who demands attention at all times. Her selfishness provides unrest within the family as personal issues, unrequited love and depression dominate their time. Needless to say, it is a rather sombre story, with flecks of humour penetrating the otherwise nihilistic and melancholy tone of the film.
The casting call is obviously impressive, and Bening does serve up a deliciously amorous performance. Her portrayal of an egomaniacal prima donna is so good that she’s unbearable to watch. Dennehy is also good as the aging realist amongst the family, and his return to the screen following the comedy movie Tag is certainly very welcome. However, the remaining players do very little to enhance the story, and for the calibre of talent they are all equally underwhelming in their efforts. Ronan offers another bland and uncharismatic performance following the aforementioned On Chesil Beach, while the others follow suit. Howe is particularly cringe worthy, overacting the heck out of his sooky, self-loathing wannabe playwright character.
Perhaps my judgment is too harsh, and maybe I’m blind to the film’s charm, but The Seagull (a metaphoric title, for the record) failed to capture my attention in any meaningful way and did little to impress. It is a boring and cumbersome affair, which I imagine to be the equivalent of an 1800’s soap opera. Most definitely not recommended.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★☆☆☆☆
‘The Seagull’ opens in Australian cinemas on 4 October 2018.