Director: Benedict Andrews
Writer: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Yvan Attal, Gabriel Sky, Jack O’Connell, Margaret Qualley, Colm Meaney, Vince Vaughn, Stephen Root, Anthony Mackie, Zazie Beetz
Seen on: 8.10.2020
Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism
Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) leaves her husband Romain Gary (Yvan Attal) and their son (Gabriel Sky) in France to go to the USA to shoot a movie. On her flight, she meets Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) and finds herself drawn to him, as well as to his politics: he fights for (Black) civil rights. Jean becomes involved with Hakim and the cause, drawing the attention of the FBI who fear that her celebrity status will lend to much credence to the civil rights movement. They send agent Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) to spy on her and embark on a campaign to completely discredit Jean, utterly destroying her reputation.
Seberg has its heart in the right place, but it does make some problematic choices in the way it tells its story, leaving it to undermine itself.
The first, and probably most obvious, problematic choice the film make a film of how the government targeted anyone involved with the Black Panthers or the civil rights movement in general – and focus entirely on a white woman to tell that story (and doing everything to show her as a martyr). Hakim Jamal is a sidenote here, his wife (Zazie Beets) only gets to be jealous of Seberg and other Black people barely make any appearance in the first place.
But alright, they wanted to tell Seberg’s story and it’s quite a story to tell, I agree. So, the second and equally problematic choice is maybe a little more insidious, but destroys the film even more: for some reason, we get Jack Solomon as the second lead of the film, a FBI agent conflicted about his orders to destroy Seberg. And I just kept thinking… who cares? I don’t give a fuck if the FBI or some of its agents were troubled by their decisions, and this both sideism hurts the film. Sometimes one side is just wrong and the FBI campaign against the civil rights movement definitely was.
Kristen Stewart does a good job as Seberg, but the script doesn’t give her much beyond the usual “beautiful actress wants to escape her own image” shtick. I assume that there was more to Seberg, but the film successfully avoids showing any of it. Yet another way the film does itself – and Seberg – a disservice.
I didn’t know much about Seberg before watching the film, and while I do know more about her now, I wish that the film would have gone about telling her story differently. I am sure that there is more to discover here.
Summarizing: Watchable, but not very satisfying.