Review: ‘Hollywood Seagull’ a modern-day mishmash of Chekhov classic


“Hollywood Seagull” isn’t the first movie adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” Nor is novelist-turned-filmmaker Michael Guinzburg the first to think of updating the classic Russian play. The film’s conceit of reimagining 19th century playwrights as modern-day filmmakers has likewise been beaten to the punch by Claude Miller’s 2003 treatment of the same manuscript, “La Petite Lili.”

Guinzburg’s effort skews toward the old. He appoints the protagonist’s frail grandfather — originally an uncle per Chekhov — as the narrator. Many actors from the vastly miscast ensemble also register as matured beyond their characters’ years. In spite of passing references to the Internet, email and reality television, the film’s own technical limitations are so pronounced that it feels more contemporaneous with Sidney Lumet’s 1968 “The Sea Gull” and Yuli Karasik’s 1972 “Chayka,” both by-the-book renditions of “The Seagull.”

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In more ways than one, Guinzburg deliberately misses Chekhov’s point. He substitutes plugged-in Malibu for the sheltered countryside, and attention seeking for artistic calling. The film-within-a-film made by the protagonist — redolent of a psychic-hotline commercial — exposes him as a hack rather than the tortured artist Chekhov intended. Guinzburg should have aimed for the bourgeois despair of Alexander Payne, but instead channeled the aristocratic detachment of Alan Rudolph.

Miller was able to preserve the moral of “The Seagull” by radically altering the fourth act. Guinzburg here retains all the dots without necessarily connecting them. When a director merely goes through the motions, even Chekhov can be reduced to daytime soap.


‘Hollywood Seagull’

MPAA rating: Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: At Downtown Independent, Los Angeles