Kristen Stewart Brings Icon Jean Seberg to Vibrant Life in Seberg
A marvellous Kristen Stewart glides (impeccably dressed in costume designer Michael Wilkinson’s Paris couture recreations) through this tense, heartbreaking chronicle of the last ten years in the life of Jean Seberg.
With remarkable turns in Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, Café Society, Personal Shopper and Lizzie, Stewart has leaned into her queer identity and begun to loosen up on screen, while fully embodying her characters. Here, she invests Jean Seberg with agency and dignity, reminding us how futile it was to try and ignore her during the French New Wave. Stewart is in nearly every scene and makes the role her own, allowing the filmmakers to use her as an anchor to create a fully realised milieu. This performance is one that begs to be noticed.
Australian theatre director Benedict Andrews (in his second outing as a movie director) focuses his attention on young actress Seberg’s strengths and fragilities, as well as her near universal appeal to young women of the time. Writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse are wise to focus the narrative on Seberg’s passions as a political activist, rather than spending too much time detailing her life on movie sets. Though best known for the French New Wave, Seberg also appeared in some popular Hollywood movies and started to become an international icon. Her work in Hollywood led her to befriend members of the Black Panther Party, which stoked her already developed political interests.
Alternatively procedural (not in a bad way) and stylishly nuanced, Seberg is solidly scripted and yet not didactic. Instead, what we’re offered is an elevated glance into a chapter of both political and cinematic history. Maintaining the drama without treading too much toward the gritty, Seberg provides a voyeuristic peek into a (sometimes) glamorous life through stylish blasts in visuals and lush sounds. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison, who previously lensed Fruitvale Station, Black Panther and Mudbound — for which she received an Oscar nomination — allows her camera to roam, capturing the essence of the period and Jean’s complicated personality, while composer Jed Kurzel’s intimate, piano driven score bestows a moody texture on the movie.
Anthony Mackie and Jack O’Connell both lend robust backing, portraying Hakim Jamal, the Black Panther affiliate with whom Jean has an affair, and Jack Solomon, the F.B.I. agent surveilling Seberg’s involvements. Their performances provide gravity as the tense drama between the Black Panther Party and the U.S. government unwinds.
An emotionally resonant and involving piece of filmmaking about an overlooked story, it’s hard to fathom Seberg’s lack of awards recognition, especially alongside more successful films like Rupert Goold’s Judy. Though the two movies have quite different motivations, they both deal with the tragic last days in the lives of superstars. 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.
Seberg makes for a fascinating companion piece to another film released last year, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, with Seberg giving us the more feminine side of the late 60s/early 70s Hollywood.
Double feature, anyone?
By Joseph Cook
Seberg is in US theaters now.