One can never get tired out of the sordid expose’ of Hollywood trappings rich with scandalous accounts of freaky sex, over-indulgent drug abuse and alcoholism, the casting couch practices, diversity misrepresentation, seedy payoffs…the list goes on and on. Of course, the degradation of unhinged Tinseltown studs and starlets always make for the interesting mix of celebrity shine and shame depending on the controversy at large. Director Benedict Andrews (“Una”) delves into the nostalgic naughtiness of the turbulent late 60’s/early 70’s to reveal the confrontational exploits of French New Wave sensation Jean Seberg in the ambitious but thoroughly disjointed psychological thriller biopic Seberg.
Andrews’ take on the late American Midwest-born radical actress and her heated dealings with the constant scrutiny of the FBI’s surveillance tactics regarding her civil rights activism and political turmoil was definitely ripe for in-depth stimulating material. Indeed, the iconic muse for French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s coveted 1960 vehicle Breathless was a prioritized target for J. Edgar Hoover’s government agency concerned with the cinematic fair-haired pixie cavorting with the perceived menacing threat known as the Black Panthers. Seberg had the makings for an explosive, unsettling examination of a perplexed artist’s personalized tortured soul gone haywire at the expense of her labeled corrosive convictions. Seberg’s tragic story is undeniably worthy as another alarming statistic of Hollywood’s cluttered graveyard and the checkered journey taken for this leftist lass to realize her surging consciousness. Still, Andrews is never quite skilled to lift Seberg beyond its flat, preachy dramatic confines.
As a period piece, Seberg does aptly capture the allure of the unsteady times that Seberg encompasses passionately as she drifts into the realm of racial strife and political pressure. Screenwriters Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel approaches the pedestrian proceedings with a sedate script that could have been more bombastic and revealing given the demonized dilemma placed upon the outspoken big screen ingenue. Surprisingly, Kristen Stewart shows some convincing range as the beleaguered bombshell voicing dissension to the restrictive establishment. The performance is effectively plausible and intense as Stewart’s paranoid Jean Seberg comes off soundly as the conscientious screen siren biting off more than she can chew under the watchdog administration of Hoover’s invasive clutches. Otherwise, the deflating dialogue and awkward tension undermines Stewart’s formidable acting chops in this mechanical telling of Seberg’s latter years into cat-and-mouse mental madness with the authoritative strain of Hoover’s dirt-finding obsession.
Seberg struggles to find its pathos-induced footing. There is no doubt that the troubling trials and tribulations of Jean Seberg was worth exploring with artistic vigor but an incidental subplot involving one of Hoover’s loyal G-men in Agent Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) possibly getting soft about tracking Seberg while being accountable to a bigoted boss (Vince Vaughn) epitomizing the disdain that bureaucratic bigwig Hoover has for the so-called revolutionary black troublemakers that delicate white wonder Seberg had the inexcusable nerve to fraternize with politically, financially, and promiscuously in ill-advised unity.
Essentially, Seberg’s pounding ideology is nipping at her hasty heels as making films for French and American moviegoers is just not enough to satisfy the treasured umbrella of fame and fortune. Despite the Hollywood massive machine and the high stakes at large Jean develops an increasing affinity for supporting the Civil Rights Movement–and soon finds herself enamored with Black Panthers activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie). Naturally, Seberg playing footsies with black activist Jamal and showing sympathetic connections and allegiance with the Black Panther party is an immediate wake-up call for Hoover whose notorious preoccupation for tapping phones and creating files on the behind-the-scene bedroom antics of high profile personalities such as politicians, entertainers and civil rights leaders were legendary. The radicalism of Jean Seberg in the tail end of the sixties was deeply disturbing to a petrified racially divided America–particularly middle white America where Seberg hailed from the corn fields of innocence.
Stewart, last seen in the panned popcorn reboot Charlie’s Angels, admirably redeems herself taking on the complicated skin of the late maligned celluloid diva Jean Seberg. Other than Stewart’s authentic interpretation of the hounded actress long gone before her time Seberg feels like a slight biopic looking for but never really pinpointing the vitality of a perplexing performer swallowed by the vast mouth of Big Brother-style mischievousness. Seberg should be concrete in its forceful search for recklessness and redemption–not simply an atmospheric soap opera that merely raises its suspicion of outrage. Dutifully, Stewart takes on Jean Seberg’s suffocating trajectory at the hands of governmental harassment and allows the audience to nibble methodically on her paralyzing plight. Sadly, the underwhelming narrative does not quite give Stewart’s subject matter its rightful due poignantly. The cynicism feels misplaced and the film should be touching raw nerves instead of caressing them unevenly.
Seberg certainly fits the contemporary times where protesting and prevailing from the chaotic political underbelly of societal outrageousness, indignity, and uncertainty is empowering. Andrews’ well-meaning portrait of the panic-stricken artist lightly pounces profoundly. Nevertheless, both Stewart and her vulnerable inspiration Jean Seberg deserved a better deep dive than this tiptoe through the surfacing waves of despair and disillusionment.
DIRECTOR: Benedict Andrews
STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Anthony Mackie, Jack O’Connell, Colm Meaney, Vince Vaughn, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Stephen Root
RUN TIME: 103 minutes