The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - SEBERG | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - SEBERG

seberg review
A young FBI agent is assigned the task of spying on actress Jean Seberg.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Benedict Andrews

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Anthony Mackie, Jack O'Connell, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Vince Vaughn, Colm Meaney

seberg poster

Outside of cinephile circles, the American actress Jean Seberg has faded into history. On screen there were two Jean Sebergs, the actress who featured in supporting roles in bloated Hollywood productions like Paint Your Wagon and Airport, and the actress who delivered iconic turns in French movies like Breathless and Backfire. Who better to portray Seberg then than Kristen Stewart, who similarly divides her career between Hollywood duds like Charlie's Angels and acclaimed French movies like Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria. Much like Seberg, Stewart's talents have garnered far more recognition in Europe than in her native land.

Unlike Stewart however, Seberg wasn't a particularly great actress. In France she was known as more of a style icon while in the US she drew headlines on account of her controversial private life. Director Benedict Andrews' Seberg focusses on the late 1960s and early '70s, when Seberg became convinced that she was being targeted by the FBI, thanks to her affair with African-American activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie).

seberg review

Seberg is being marketed as a conventional biopic, but Andrews' film is much closer to something like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Like Tarantino's film, it's an attempt on the part of a movie to rescue a real life actress who we sadly know is doomed in the world outside the cinema. Seberg committed suicide (or did she?) in 1979, and so never lived to see the FBI's admission that the agency was indeed harassing her for over a decade. While she was alive, Seberg's claims were dismissed as the claims of a crazy woman, but Andrews and screenwriters Joe Shrapnel (what a name!) and Anna Waterhouse rewrite history to give their subject a moment of redemption she was denied in reality. This act is heavily negated by closing the film with title cards that tell us the sad conclusion to Seberg's real life, something Tarantino wisely neglected to do in the case of Sharon Tate.

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Like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Seberg is the story of a movie star who finds their career on the rocks in a changing Hollywood landscape. Seberg was never officially blacklisted, but thanks to fabricated stories leaked to the press, many producers considered her name poison.

seberg review

Another aspect it shares with Tarantino's film is the element of fictional characters intersecting with a real life figure. Here it's young FBI surveillance expert Jack Solomon (Jack O'Connell) and his grizzled older partner Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn). Solomon's monitoring recalls films like Vertigo and The Conversation, as the idealistic young man finds himself racked with guilt for his role in his target's declining mental state.

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While seeking justice for its eponymous subject, Seberg is by no means a hagiography. The actress is portrayed here not as an angelic idealist but as a narcissistic figure, and her relationship with Jamal comes off as more a case of a privileged white girl taking a bit of rough from the wrong side of town than any kind of committed political statement. As a wife and mother, the Seberg we see here isn't going to win much sympathy from viewers, as she neglects her family in favour of several affairs. A suicide attempt is made morally complicated by her carrying an unborn child at the time.

seberg review

Stewart is excellent in the role, making up for some of the deficiencies of a script that concentrates more on showing us what Seberg did and said rather than what she felt. In the film's closing moments, the camera lingers on Stewart's face, Garbo style, as she processes the pivotal fictional scene that just played out. We get the sense from Stewart's face that her life might change for the better as a result of the revelation she's just experienced. Of course, we know that's not the case, but for a few moments Stewart convinces us that within the cinema screen, her Seberg just might be alright in the end.

Seberg is on Netflix UK/ROI now.