Seberg (2019) 

Jean Seberg’s role as a martyr runs through this film. It includes both a scene recreation and behind the scenes footage of her burning at the stake in Saint Joan and a lover who accuses her of running around with a handful of nails looking for a cross to die on. Yet the noises that only she can hear come not from God, but a government agency using all means necessary to discredit her support of the Black Panthers. Her journey from fearless benefactor to frightened actor is a slow burn that, unlike Joan of Arc, fails to ignite (too soon?)

After a not-so-fortuitous meeting with civil rights leader Hakim Jamal, Jean Seberg comes to the attention of newly recruited FBI agent Jack Solomon, who encourages her surveillance as a means of immediately establishing his credentials. But as her status changes from collateral damage to prime target, Solomon grows concerned for the actress, fearing the FBI's methods are going too far.  Seberg meanwhile, begins to see enemies everywhere.

The tragic tale of a beautiful actress hounded into paranoia and suicide attempts by the FBI has all the makings of a gripping drama, but Seberg remains curiously uninvolving. This is due, in part, to the film devoting as much time to the pursuers as it does to the pursued, with haunting scenes of Seberg's disintegrating home life being repeatedly offset by irrelevant scenes of the agents’ households.

 

Not that these are exactly the pictures of domestic bliss. Solomon’s wife suspects his surveillance of Seberg might be more than just a job and Vince Vaughn’s Kowalski reveals his true character when he unravels at a family dinner. All of which amounts to ...nothing. Meanwhile, Jean Seberg (remember her?) is literally and figuratively tearing her house apart. Though Kristen Stewart’s performance in the title role alternates between impassive and impassioned, it nevertheless continues to hold one’s attention. What robs it of its potency is the continual white noise.

It was in relation to the French new wave films which revitalised Seberg’s career that Billy Wilder once quipped “Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.” Though this biopic’s cinematographer avoids such trickery, Seberg remains frustratingly unfocused.

Kristen Stewart, Jean Seberg, Yvan Attal, Romain Gary, Rock Hudson
Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart

as Jean Seberg

Yvan Attal
Yvan Attal

as Romain Gary

Michael Burnett as Rock Hudson (uncredited)

1/1
fact check, factcheck, fact vs fiction, inaccuracies, true story

According to Jean Seberg’s biographer Gary McGee, the relationship between Seberg and Black Panther Hakim Jamal was not sexual.

FBI agent Jack Solomon is a fictional character.

Saint Joan, Breathless, Macho Callahan

Biopic’s brief scene recreations from Saint Joan, Breathless and Macho Callahan account for less than two minutes running time.

Carol Kane, Christopher Lloyd, Lorne Michaels, David Letterman, Jerry Lawler