Swelling, as it does, toward an exquisite climactic monologue on the subject of endurance itself, Anton Chekhov’s what’s-it-all-for? comedy The Seagull can afford to demand a bit of patience. But Michael Mayer’s sunnily bleak all-star film, I fear, squirms through the first acts of Chekhov’s masterpiece the way a cast member’s 8-year-old cousin might in a theater seat. Mayer (who won a Tony for directing Spring Awakening) has whipped up a tiresomely restless Seagull, shot and edited, for much of its first half, as if the crew had been seized by the conviction that seeing one actor speak and another respond in the same shot is antithetical to the very idea of cinema. It’s one thing to break up Chekhov’s lengthy drawing-room scenes into shorter encounters set through and outside the lake house in which everyone’s ennui gets aired, as screenwriter Stephen Karam does here; it’s another to deny us the pleasure of watching the actors respond to one another, of seeing the characters process each other’s confessions and insults and blasé indifference.
The editing is aggressive, too many shots cut tight as a corset, strangling the breath from the scenes. The camerawork is fidgety to the point of distraction — the rapid push-in shots, zipping across a room and into a speaker’s face, are the kind of thing you see when a cartoon or a comedy traces a spark’s race along a lit fuse. Mayer calms in the second half and showcases superb turns from Annette Bening and Saoirse Ronan — but whether that’s worth waiting for, I leave to you.
Michael MayerAnnette Bening, Saorise Ronan, Corey Stoll, Elisabeth Moss, Mare Winningham, Jon Tenney, Glenn Fleshler, Michael Zegen, Billy Howle, Brian DennehyStephen KaramSony Pictures Classics