MOVIES — The Seagull and Book Club

Perfectly cast ensembles explore the joy, mystery and pain of love in two very different films.

A fresh take on Anton Chekhov’s 1895 roundelay of unrequited love at an idyllic country estate, The Seagull features a splendid Annette Bening as Irina, a grand Russian stage actress whose vivacity can't disguise her fears of aging and loss. She recognizes competition for her lover, a famous writer named Boris, in local girl Nina (the ubiquitous Saoirse Ronan). Irina’s handsome son, Konstantin, loves Nina, an aspiring thespian performing in his avant-garde play, which he hopes will wow Mom. Like that’s going to happen.

Elisabeth Moss makes a delightfully doleful Masha. “I’m in mourning, for my life!” declares the estate manager’s daughter, hopelessly besotted with Konstantin and attracting only a poor schoolteacher. Masha’s mother weeps over the visiting Doctor Dorn, with whom she’s had a long affair though his attentions have never been exclusive. Irina herself is a onetime paramour.

“The spells cast by this lake,” says Dorn, comforting the anguished Masha on a summer night. Jon Tenney told an audience at a screening that he especially liked the role because Chekhov was also a physician. Though the literary master considered his play a comedy and genuinely funny moments dot the film, Dorn is the only remotely contented person. Irina and Boris are heat-seeking missiles aimed at the young: Konstantin, who longs desperately for his mother’s love and respect; and the naïve Nina, drawn to Boris’s success, oblivious to his fickle, destructive nature. Like the magical lake, this abbreviated version of The Seagull casts a spell.

Let’s get this out of the way: Book Club is not great art. But there is an underlying poignancy along with the humor and a dream quartet of lead actresses. As much about friendship as romance, the film stars Diane

Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen as avid

bookworms who go for the steamy Fifty Shades of Grey one month. Director/co-writer Bill Holderman had given the Fifty Shades trilogy as a fun Mother’s Day gift! And a movie idea was born.

Keaton, familiarly dithering in a role written specifically for her, is a widow whose grown daughters pressure her to move into a home basement apartment in Arizona. After they meet cute, a charming airline pilot (Andy Garcia) has more exciting plans for her. Portraying a successful luxury-hotel owner who runs into an old flame, Fonda taps into the vulnerability of a strong, sexually active woman who is afraid of real intimacy. She specifically requested Don Johnson for her love interest, good call. (Tho we kept envisioning him in a T-shirt under a pastel suit.) Steenburgen’s recently retired husband shows more interest in his motorcycle than in her and she plots to rev up his engine.

But it’s the deadpan Bergen, as a divorced federal judge off the market for 18 years, who deservedly gets the most laughs. Venturing into the unfamiliar world of online dating, she accidentally posts a photo of herself in a gooey green face mask and lands a tax attorney played by a game Richard Dreyfuss. "I could legally put you in handcuffs," her honor nervously blurts out during their first date. And "Ginsburg" nails it as Bergen's feline alter ego. This escapist rom-com is really about taking chances and living life to its fullest, no matter one's age.