'The Seagull' taps into Chekhov’s funny bone

“The Seagull,” the latest film from “Lady Bird” star Saoirse Ronan, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival Saturday night. Adapted from an Anton Chekhov play by the same name, “The Seagull” tells the story of a group of artists in 1890s Russia as they pass through the countryside estate of an old man. The strength of the movie comes from its supporting cast made up of Annette Benning, Elizabeth Moss, Corey Stoll and Billy Howle, whose love lives intertwine-- often to devastating effect.

Ronan as Nina and Howle as Konstantin are the starring couple of the film but Benning and Stoll steal the spotlight. Benning plays Irina, Konstantin’s mother, who does not allow her son a second of gratitude. Stoll is Irina’s aloof boyfriend Boris Trigorin. The interplay between these four is fascinating and lead to the strongest scenes of the film.

The idea that I kept returning to with the four main characters was vampirism. Each character, in their own way, preys upon the ones they love and seem to suck the life out of them. While the love is not always sexual, its result here is always destruction. I would not recommend this movie for a first or even second date.

In this story of destruction and sorrow, director Michael Mayer is able to seamlessly infuse laugh-out-loud moments of comedy. Elizabeth Moss’ character Masha perfectly encapsulates the gallows humor of this movie. Masha is driven to alcoholism and snuff addiction because of her unrequited love towards Konstantin, and her desperate situation leads to some of the funniest moments of the film. Comedy seems a necessary outlet for any attempt at adapting a Chekhov piece. The writer was overwhelmingly Russian and his stories reflect the stereotypical depression of the country’s art. To get this compelling story of love and its pitfalls in front of a large enough audience, the director and screenwriter needed to lighten the mood and succeed in doing so.

Masha’s depression taps into another throughline of this film, which is how dreams both achieved and unachieved can provide happiness. Masha’s unrealized dream of Konstantin’s love destroys her; on the other hand, Boris Trigorin, a famous author who has achieved all he hoped for professionally, is also unhappy with his life. The film’s most devastating example of unfulfilled dreams comes when the old man, Sorin, recounts his life on his deathbed and how his dreams of marriage and city life never came true. Masha said it best: “Happiness does not depend on riches; poor men are often happy.”

“The Seagull” opens in theaters May 11th.

Rating: 3.5/5


Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.craven_jr@uconn.edu.