Jean Seberg did not live a boring life, so it’s extremely disheartening to see “Seberg” portray her life as such. Despite a lead performance from Kristen Stewart and a wealth of goods both in front of and behind the camera, “Seberg” fails to tell its compelling true-life story in a worthy fashion.
“Seberg” chronicles the life of international film star Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) through 1968 and 1970 where she became an active supporter of the Black Panther party, making her a target of the FBI headed under J. Edgar Hoover. Seberg’s affair with Panther leader Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) caused the FBI to rapidly surveillance her home, installing microphones in every room and camping outside of her home, spying on her in hopes of leaking any information to the press to try and discredit her from any influence she may have in the public eye.
Continuing to be one of the most interesting performers of our generation, Kristen Stewart stars as Jean Seberg and she gives a fierce, compelling performance. While she may not look identical to the late star, Stewart captures her essence and sex appeal quite beautifully. In fact, Stewart is the saving grace of the entire film.
Director Benedict Andrews’ mediocre direction and a flailing script truly cap this film before it can ever take off. Andrews, a longtime play director, struggles at visually conceptualizing any striking imagery, a real shame given the films DP is Oscar-nominee Rachel Morrison (“Mudbound, “Black Panther”). The films larger dramatic moments come off as overtly stagy and inauthentic. With a great and important story at hand, “Seberg” is so unfortunately dramatically inert.
The lackluster screenplay certainly doesn’t make things any better as characters will often say exactly how they feel, often spelling things out for the audience as if they’re not paMudboundying attention. The clunky and repetitive dramatic beats fail to register as the film bashes its themes over your head an egregious amount of times.
“Seberg” spends too much time meandering from different plot points with seemingly no idea of what particular story it wants to tell. First we follow Seberg and her affair with Hakim Jamal; why Seberg wants to be so heavily involved with the Black Panthers is something the film never answers. The story then pivots to the fictional FBI agent tasked with following Seberg, played by Jack O’Connell. We spend a large chunk of the runtime with this character and although O’Connell is a compelling actor, his character is such a blank, he never registers. Same goes for the rest of the criminally underutilized supporting cast. Zazie Beetz does what she can with her role as Jamal’s wife who is aware of his affair. Vince Vaughn chews the scenery as a one-dimensional racist FBI agent who happily follows the orders of the bureau. Margaret Qualley is given a laughably thankless role as O’Connell’s struggling wife who aims to be a doctor, but is largely relegated to the cliche, unhappy wife archetype I figured Hollywood was done away with.
“Seberg” is a tragic misfire that fails to do justice by the woman who was Jean Seberg. Kristen Stewart does her best and succeeds in bringing Seberg’s memory alive on screen, but the rest of the film is a pedestrian and dull slog of film that never knows exactly what story it’s trying to tell.