Starring Kristen Stewart, Anthony Mackie, Jack O'Connell, Vince Vaughn, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Yvan Attal, Stephen Root, Colm Meaney
Ironically indie darling Kristen Stewart gave a more original performance in Charlie’s Angels than Seberg. In a rare turn playing a real person, Stewart takes on the role of 70’s era actress Jean Seberg who became involved in The Black Panther movement. Director Benedict Andrews (Una) is a relatively new filmmaker who focuses the story on this one particular section of the young French actresses short life, despite calling it simply Seberg. The audience must infer or assume Seberg was more than an easily manipulated actress who slept around, which is how the screenplay portrays the character. It’s obvious why Stewart would be attracted to a part about a young actresses hounded by media, but the performance is surface level, continually aware you are watching Stewart not Seberg.
A 1968 Pan Am flight from Paris to Los Angeles would change actress Jean Seberg’s life forever. When she emerged from the plane, she joined the small Black Panther rally on the tarmac with her fist held high. Aside from the media storm, she caught the attention of FBI Agents Jack Solomon (O’Connell) and Carl Kowalski (Vaughn) who report to J Edgar Hoover. Seberg’s financial support and eventual affair with Malcom X cousin Hakim Jamal (Mackie) puts her on a list. Solomon stands by while his organization mentally terrorizes the actress until her own life is in danger. With Seberg’s career in the dumps, her marriage ruined and mental stability in question, The FBI keeps applying the pressure. “You are running around with nails, looking for a cross to die on,” Jamal says.
"O’Connell’s fictitious character is completely unnecessary as more than a plot device."
The screenplay and direction misguidedly try to make Jean Seberg out as a martyr. The balance or making her a symbol of hope combined with the facts known about her actions and behavior during the early 70’s don’t form the image Seberg is aiming for. The script never cracks the code to make the audience invested in her life or circumstance. It certainly fails to provide a real profile of the actors work beyond “she was badly burned working with Otto Preminger” and a poorly done scene in a western that showcases the highest level of her paranoia. The audience doesn’t feel engaged with the main character because we never really get to know her, thus can’t find emotional investment in her downfall.
Zazie Beetz (Joker) is a minor stand out with limited screen time. Mackie’s Jamal is scarcely more than a plot pivot for Jean’s demise. Worse is the cardboard performances by Vaughn and especially O’Connell who phone it in. Margaret Qualley’s standard 70’s era wife provides the audience with contrast to Seberg’s radical actions. Yet, like other characters within the film, she fades in and out of the story. Normally Stewart can elevate even the most uninspired material, but Seberg lacks even the most simplistic focus, grasping at scene after scene trying to dramatize a narrative that isn’t carved up correctly for the big screen.
Director Benedict Andrews fails to inform its audience who Jean Seberg really was with an autopilot performance from Stewart.