August: Osage County
Travis Del Mar (Will Poston), an aspiring filmmaker, lives with his grandfather (Biff McGuire) in a house nestled on the bluffs of Malibu. He invites his family and friends to show them his new short film starring Nina Danilov (Lara Romanoff), and hopes that his mother, Irene Del Mar (Barbara Williams), will be proud of him for his accomplishment. She, however, vocally expresses her criticism of his film within the first few minutes of the outdoor screening after which Travis stops the screening. The other guests, i.e. Hollywood screenwriter Barry Allen Trigger (Jay Laisne), Dr. Don Dorn (Sal Viscuso), remain polite toward Travis, at least for the time being. Cue requited love, a suicide attempt and the unraveling of Travis' dysfunctional family.
Based on the play by Anton Chekhov, Hollywood Seagull changes a few details to refresh and modernize the story, but keeps its themes and character arcs intact. Writer/director Michael Guinzburg does a decent job of tackling the dark themes of the play organically although, admittedly, a few scenes with Nina do veer into the realm of melodrama and the use of symbolism is slightly heavy-handed. Fortunately, those are systematic problems rather than systemic ones. Yes, there's a lot of talking in this film, but it doesn't feel too stagy, stuffy or dry for that matter. In other words, you won't find yourself bored or confused even if you're unfamiliar with the source material.
Barbara Williams gives a terrific performance as Travis' domineering, narcissistic mother, but what truly anchors the film is the tender performance of Biff McGuire as Travis' wise grandfather who adds gravitas. Lara Romanoff sizzles in the role of Nina. It's also safe to say that the picturesque oceanside setting becomes a character in itself and provides a contrast with the film's dark, heavy themes. The fact that Guinzburg manages to incorporate everything in just 1 hour 35 minutes is a testament to his discipline as a writer/director and to the impeccable skills of his editors Scott Conrad and Michael Kuge.