If you told me a movie about Jean Seberg, who died young under somewhat mysterious circumstances, that acted in some great films including the disaster film Airport, was hounded by the FBI for her involvement in the civil rights movement — was and would be a mediocre film, I’d have a hard time believing.
How did the filmmaker’s screw this one up? I’ll break it down momentarily, but think the script is largely to blame.
These kind of movies are among the hardest for me to process from a reviewer’s standpoint. I mean, all the ingredients should be there and the execution is to blame.
Come on, Seberg’s life is very, very interesting and yet this is all delivered flat and by the numbers, except and — thankfully — for Kristen Stewart.
Heck, you’ll be more excited reading articles about Jean Seberg.
Seberg told the NY Times in 1974 that she had once been very committed to the Panthers, but had “officially broke with them…I’ve analyzed the fact that I’m not equipped to participate absolutely and totally. I had a very, very bad mental breakdown, and now I realize I wouldn’t want a person like me in a group I was a member of, as Groucho Marx would put it.”The Still Bizarre Tragedy Behind Kristen Stewart’s Seberg | E! News
A miscarriage, overdoses and a death under strange circumstances — these are the ingredients that make for a good film and yet they’re barely explored!
Before going further, there are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched Seberg yet — it’s available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video — then you might want to come back after watching (if you want to watch, that is), because I have some spoiler-heavy stuff to say about this movie, including breaking down the ending, which I hated.
… you’ve been warned, SPOILERS ahead …
Let’s start with the best part of this movie — by far — Kristen Stewart.
Without Stewart’s acting, this movie would have been 1-star for me
Stewart is an actress I’ve criticized heavily for her last two films seen (see: 20+ Underwater Reviews – Sea Monsters Are Scarier Unexplained), but I like what she tried to do here. I say, try, because when you’re given crap as an ingredient, it’s hard to make good sushi.
And yet, I did feel like Stewart was strong in this film. She gave some real passion to the mostly limp noodle lines she was given. Even saw her cry a few times, get mad and some semi-nude sex scenes took me by surprise. A bare breasted Kristen Stewart in this film? Didn’t expect that.
So, I give Kristen Stewart’s performance with the material given a sold 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s hard to do what she did, and commend her for that. I wish she’d have been as stellar with subpar material with Charlie’s Angels and Underwater.
The Real Jean Seberg was an activist locally too
Teenagers Against Polio was just one of Seberg’s causes. The historical film below shows Jean was all about great causes throughout her life, including her home town of Marshalltown, Iowa.
As you watch some (or all) of this Jean Seberg interview, check out her hair. That’s the hair that I wish Kristen Stewart had in at least some of the movie.
Kristen Stewart sports the Breathless Seberg hairdo throughout most the movie.
Why didn’t the hair and makeup people change Stewart’s short, pixie hairdo? Look at the video above. Seberg didn’t always have short hair. Yes, she had it during the movie Breathless (1960, shown below) and she helped make this a trendy style for women. I just wish other eras of her hair had been on display.
Also, Stewart doesn’t make any attempt to capture the voice of Seberg. She’s Kristen Stewart’s voice as Jean Sebert, not Sebert’s more mousy voice.
I know, you’re probably thinking? Her hair, so what? This has little to do with the movie itself, but I don’t find women in short hair very attractive, including Kristen Stewart, and thus this creates a (very) small negative bias against short-haired women characters.
Jean Seberg in the first video looks way more attractive to me. As a viewer, we can’t help but being at least a little biased by how a character’s appearance. It’s the reason Danny Trejo is so often cast as a bad guy because his weathered face, tats and the like just make him look like the stereotypical bad guy. Love Trejo as Machete, by the way!
I’m not saying just because a woman’s hair is short she can’t have an amazing performance. Far from it, I’m saying that it is distracting to me. Somewhat shallow? Yes, I’ll at least admit it.
The exposition text ending sucks
Very rarely the “and then this happened” text endings explaining the actual ending and/or death for the character work. Sure, it’s effective as an epilogue for characters with lives more electric and interesting than their death, but to tell us that Sebring died at a mere 40 years old when that’s more interesting than the movie we just sat through for 90+ minutes? Lame. Flashbacks are tough, but it might have made more sense in this story. Cut the scenes in more present with investigation around her murder back to the movie roles she starred in and the black panther involvement.
Instead, we’re treated to a mostly dry, boring FBI surveillance film. Why? Can’t help wondering what Greta Gerwig would have done if she was behind Seberg? No doubt a much better film.
The text at the end instead of being enlightening and “wow, that’s too bad” moment becomes an irritation for the viewer wanting to see that film instead.
I’m always curious what others think of films after I’ve written and shared my own review. The reason why not during or before is I don’t want to be influenced. Sometimes, I’m way off in my reaction to a film than others, which I’ll always find fascinating. Let’s see how this one fares.
Reviews by Others
What do other reviewers think about Seberg?
- Ben Rolph / DiscussingFilm (4/5): “…has depth and underlying intrigue to the reasoning’s and the portrayal of the story, it doesn’t hold up to the standard of spectatorial mastery of The Conversation. However, that isn’t the core of the film, that is the outer rim of intrigue. The real centre piece is Stewart, Jean is the beating heart of the film”
- James Kleinmann / The Queer Review: “In my opinion, Judy is a mediocre film with a good performance, whereas Seberg is a great movie, with a remarkable performance. Yet somehow, Judy got Renée Zellweger another Academy Award for a showy role, while Seberg failed to get Kristen Stewart an overdue first Oscar nod.”
- miquewatson / In Their Own League (4/5): “This is a tale so absolutely horrifying in just how current it all feels; power corrupts the corruptible, and people are the collateral damage.”
- After Misery (1.5/5): ” time is wasted on FBI agent Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) and his weird family life. Why is this so much about him when we don’t know anything about him and movie’s name is Seberg? Seberg the film is a blended drink and the maker has no idea about its ingredients.”
- Candid Cinema: “I feel as if he focused too much on the surveillance aspect of the Jean Seberg case, rather than have it be a character study on this icon. This also proves that Kristen Stewart can tackle anything because this was her BEST performance, all she needs is a great script and she will eventually get the recognition she deserves.”
- CJ / Film Mafia: “Seberg’s story is a great one, and Kristen Stewart, a truly magnetic actor, is a great Seberg. But the dialogue is excruciating, and it makes the actors saying it look bad: you can’t act this stuff properly.”
- David Ferguson / Movie Reviews From The Dark: “The film would have been best served by focusing on either Seberg or Solomon. The two stories dilute the effectiveness, and beyond that, the Black Panther story line fades, as does the whole celebrity-as-an-activist subplot.”
- filmreviews12 / The Reviews (2/4): “…when so much of the rest of the proceedings are marred down by such meandering scripting and plodding direction, the movie takes a distant approach to a real-life story and comes off lacking and unfocused.”
- Graham / Scannain: “…is a relatively harmless affair. Even with two compelling leads, the film cannot be elevated above average.”
- hoops2448 / The Sardonic Romantic: “The story of Jean Seberg is a tragic one that people should know about, especially today when disinformation is becoming the norm yet again, but I don’t think Seberg the film does justice to her undoing or the story of a country willing to let it happen.”
- M.N Miller / Ready Steady Cut: “there is very little tension filled paranoia created here nor a well-designed narrative on the assault on her mental health that the makers of Seberg are selling.”
- MrJabbatron / Jason “Jabba” Davis: “In what should be a fascinating true story about race, power, and state surveillance, the script just isn’t there, and fails to delve below a skin deep level. Despite some classy art direction and costumes that beautifully recreate an authentic late 60s ethos, Seberg is a painfully slow and frustrating movie that ultimately takes us nowhere.”
- Reddy’s Reviews (5.5/10): “…has value in many important areas, but Andrews just can’t get these elements to work together in a way that makes this movie as impactful as intended. Stewart will find a role that fits her skill set and gets her some major nominations, but unfortunately this attempt didn’t quite work out for her.”
- RogerInOrlando / Movie Nation (1.5/4): “And director Benedict Andrews underscores just how deeply he doesn’t “get it” by finishing the film with a long closeup of Stewart/Seberg, failing to wring emotions out of her, her failing to wring them out of us. Maybe that’s his way of throwing her under the bus”
- Trailer Trashed: “I have seen a whole lot of ‘based on true events’ stories this January already, and this one falls way behind the pack. “
- Virginia DeBolt / Old Ain’t Dead: “Kristen Stewart did an outstanding job with the rather poor script she was given. With the right hair and costumes, she evoked the real woman admirably.”
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