You don’t have to know Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” to get something out of “Days and Nights,” Christian Camargo’s adaptation of it set in rural New York in the Reagan Era ’80s. But considering how unclear the relationships are, how opaque the symbolism, how self-consciously theatrical the whole all-star affair is, understanding Anton would help.
Elizabeth (Allison Janney) is a famous actress, Peter (Camargo) is her famous filmmaker lover. They take the train from Manhattan to upstate, where they weekend in the country home of sickly Herb (William Hurt). Jean Reno is Louis, Herb’s doctor.
Eric (Ben Whishaw) is Elizabeth’s son, a would-be multi-media artist who resents Peter and lusts for Eva (Juliet Rylance), a frustrated local beauty whom he is using in his latest blend of music, dance, narration and video. She longs to escape the sticks, and if Eric can’t manage that, perhaps cozying up to Peter will help.
Alex (Katie Holmes) is a new mom, trapped in the country, married to Stephen (Mark Rylance), a state ornithologist who is monitoring an eagle’s nest on the property and warning the others of changes in the climate.
Mary (Cherry Jones) is married to the daft, gun-happy Johan, played by Michael Nyqvist of the Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), a guy whose malapropisms and quick dismissal of incidents, accidents and injuries wear on everyone.
“Johan, WHY do you have to do that?”
It’s 1984, and Ronald Reagan’s TV scary “Bear in the woods” TV ads are on TV and Herb, when he’s not being pushed around the estate in a little red wagon by the local children, dances to Supertramp.
Frustrated people start coupling or re-coupling, or at the very least getting under each other’s skin. Eric and Eva put on their show, to Elizabeth’s catty derision. She also mocks Peter’s possible interest in Eva, and Eric takes out his frustration over this with one and all.
Camargo has dabbled in a little symbolism of his own in adapting this — the eagle-Reagan Era connection. An actor (“The Hurt Locker”, TV’s “Dexter”) turned director, he’s the blandest presence on screen, here. Janney is beautifully caustic and vain, Whishaw is properly infuriating, Hurt is colorfully daft and Nyqvist all but steals the movie with his bemused, fractured line readings and droll arched eyebrow at all these artsy city folk.
“Was anyone hurt?”
The sylvan setting and short bursts of dramatic interplay are more interesting than coherent in this brief, undeveloped adaptation. All I could think of watching it was how many equally pointless indie films have seemed to come into being simply because some filmmaker had access to “a country house.” As Chekhov did.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, adult situations
Cast: William Hurt, Allison Janney, Christian Camargo, Katie Holmes, Ben Whishaw, Jean Reno, Michael Nyqvist
Credits: Written and directed by Christian Camargo. An IFC release.
Running time: 1:31