THE MOVIE GUY — Flawed storytelling mars ‘Seberg’ biography
Directed by Benedict Andrews
Starring Kristen Stewart, Jack O’Connell, Anthony Mackie, Zazie Beetz, Vince Vaughn and Margaret Qualley
Actress Jean Seberg led a fascinating life, but she’s perhaps best known for the notoriety surrounding her death by apparent suicide in 1979. This talented but troubled young woman believed that she was being persecuted by the FBI because of her outspoken support for the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers Party.
Her fears were well founded, as she was eventually revealed to be one of the more notable targets of J. Edgar Hoover’s nefarious COINTELPRO investigation.
All of this backstory serves as compelling groundwork for Amazon Studios’ new biography, Seberg, starring Kristen Stewart in the title role. Unfortunately, despite Stewart’s terrific performance, the film only works sporadically, mostly because of a screenplay that doesn’t do the actress justice.
It’s as if the filmmakers aren’t interested in Seberg the woman, preferring instead to leer at her breakdown under the pressure of the federal investigation. This prurient focus makes for a distasteful biography at times, and structurally, it makes it difficult to get invested in the injustice of Seberg’s persecution because we haven’t spent enough time with the flesh-and-blood woman, so we only see the victim.
There’s also the somewhat problematic creation of a sympathetic FBI agent (Jack O’Connell) who starts to feel bad about his involvement in the campaign to ruin this woman’s life. He’s included in the story as a means to take us into the FBI back rooms, but in a movie where the agents are so bad that one kicks a dog to death, who cares about the fictitious character who grows a conscience?
These problematic structural elements and characters mar a film that is otherwise filled with great period design and some truly superb performances. Stewart, at just 30 years of age, continues to turn in one intriguing performance after another. Anthony Mackie and Zazie Beetz are also quite good playing the Black Panther couple whose marriage is tested in the film. Even O’Connell is rock solid playing that invented FBI agent with a good heart. I may dislike that the character was ever created, but I won’t deny that they hired a talented actor to play the part.
All of which makes Seberg into an interesting but very flawed introduction to the actress and her tragic story. When somebody lives a life this interesting, it’s a shame that her biography seems to mainly be interested in her downfall. Perhaps a documentary might have better served the subject matter. At the very least, Seberg deserves a better screenplay to match the film’s otherwise-superb acting.
Seberg will be available for home streaming on Amazon Prime starting today.
Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in The Port Arthur News and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.