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dir Michael Mayer
scr Stephen Karam
prd Jay Franke, David Herro, Tom Hulce, Robert Salerno, Leslie Urdang
with Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Corey Stoll, Elisabeth Moss, Mare Winningham, Brian Dennehy, Jon Tenney, Glenn Fleshler, Michael Zegen, Ben Thompson, Barbara Tirrell
release US 11.May.18, UK 7.Sep.18
Innocent lust: Ronan and Stoll
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Based on the classic Chekhov play, this lively period drama bristles with energy and wit, weaving entangled romantic strands within a knowing satire of artistic ambition. Lushly shot, the superb cast members make the most of the sometimes elusive comical dialog, which cleverly makes potent observations on human behaviour in between the lines. But it's a pretty grim comedy.
In 1904 Russia, famed actress Irina (Bening) visits the country estate of her brother Sorin (Dennehy) with her aspiring playwright son Konstantin (Howle) and her lover, famed writer Boris (Stoll). But a variety of passions erupt as Konstantin stages his obtuse and arty new play in the garden. Meanwhile, impoverished schoolteacher Mikhail (Zegen) has a crush on family friend Masha (Moss), who's in love with Konstantin, but he is besotted with neighbour-actress Nina (Ronan), who is in turn drawn to Boris. In fact, pretty much everyone is in love with the wrong person.
The title refers to Konstantin's feelings of worthlessness, as he pointlessly shoots a seagull then threatens suicide. And everyone is caught off balance by lust, enraged by jealousy, annoyed by the loss of youth or the frustration of being in the middle of it. The film also sometimes feels overcrowded, losing plot strands along the way. And despite the fresh, naturalistic dialog, it gets somewhat melodramatic. This is especially true in the final act, when stronger emotions and intense feelings of regret swell.
The actors are solid, making the most of complex dialog that reveals layers within characters who are consumed with doubts and fears. Bening has the most colourful role as a fading actress clinging to her beauty. Howle and Ronan have softer, more victimised roles as innocent young people whose lives don't go the way they hoped they would. They're best in their scenes together, which ripple with unspoken feelings and, in the end, burst with dark emotion.
This is a beautifully crafted narrative in which several storylines work together to say something much larger than the obvious series of events. Screenwriter Karam and director Mayer nicely make the play cinematic, using extensive close-ups to bring out the subtext and conflicts. So even if it feels rather arch, it's a riveting movie packed with resonant themes about self-doubt, self-obsession and the randomness of attraction, plus the way the games of the wealthy can prove fatal to the masses. Which is especially relevant more than a century after Chekhov wrote it.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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