Seberg, Sad but Stilted

I didn’t know much, if anything, about Jean Seberg. She was a French actress who flitted back and forth between Europe and Hollywood, enjoying a relatively short career before the FBI ruined her life and sent her packing back home. So in terms of her filmography, she’s been a blind spot for me personally. Amazon’s original biopic Seberg isn’t exactly the best history lesson when it comes to Jean as a person or as an industry starlet. Kristen Stewart’s performance unfortunately recalls some of her lesser moments around the time of Twilight‘s burgeoning popularity, a time when many thought she was no more than a sullen one-hit wonder. On the other hand, Seberg is an involving if didactic portrait of a time in America rife with the winds of change, much like the present. From Seberg’s influence on young people of the era to the growing opposition to strong-arm tactics by our government to suppress civil rights, the film adequately explores the swingin’ sixties’ changing mores.

From Una director Benedict Andrews, the film also reminds us that the Black Panther Party was much more than what white historical propaganda would have you believe. As Hakim Jamal, an associate of Malcolm X, Anthony Mackie does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to Andrews’ interpretation of 60’s-era racial politics. Where the script fails, Mackie prevails. A majority of the picture revolves around the FBI’s investigation into Jean’s connections with Hakim and the ongoing civil rights movements of the day. An excellent scene at a dinner table has Vince Vaughn’s traditionalist/racist/misogynist FBI spook bellowing at his own teenage daughter (sporting a flapper-esque Seberg hairdo) and their guests: his more tolerant and level-headed partner Jack (Jack O’Connell) and Jack’s compassionate wife Linnette (Margaret Qualley). Seberg is quite engrossing when following the younger agent, played with just-right intensity by the underrated O’Connell. His rough journey from orderly white knight of the agency to moral skeptic runs parallel to the sad, poignant decline of Seberg’s mental state, providing a clear character arc and narrative backbone that is otherwise sorely missing from the film.

Grade: B-

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