Review: ‘Four Good Days,’ starring Glenn Close and Mila Kunis

May 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Glenn Close and Mila Kunis in “Four Good Days” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Four Good Days”

Directed by Rodrigo García

Culture Representation: Taking place from September 2019 to January 2020 in Riverside, California, the dramatic film “Four Good Days” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A heroin addict and her long-estranged mother try to repair their rocky relationship when the mother allows her 31-year-old daughter to move back home with her in the daughter’s attempt to get clean and sober.

Culture Audience: “Four Good Days” will appeal primarly to people interested in watching dramas about mother-daughter relationships or the struggles of drug addicts, but the movie’s overwrought and sometimes unrealistic scenes will be a turnoff to some viewers.

Nicholas Oteri, Audrey Lynn, Joshua Leonard and Mila Kunis in “Four Good Days” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The dramatic film “Four Good Days” was inspired by a true story, but the shrill melodramatics in too many badly written scenes just make the movie look like overly staged phoniness. Even though lead actresses Glenn Glose and Mia Kunis seem to be putting their best efforts forward as a mother and a daughter with a troubled relationship, “Four Good Days” is ruined by a plethora of eye-rolling, ridiculous moments, especially in the last 15 minutes of the film. Instead of “Four Good Days,” the movie is better-described as “100 Irritating Minutes.”

The beginning of “Four Good Days” (directed by Rodrigo García) sets the tone for the rest of this disappointing movie, which was written by García and Eli Saslow. The movie’s screenplay is based on Saslow’s 2016 Washington Post article “Four Good Days,” about the real-life relationship between recovering drug addict Amanda Wendler and her mother Libby Alexander. In the “Four Good Days” movie, the bickering mother and daughter are Deb (played by Close) and her daughter Margaret “Molly” Wheeler (played by Kunis).

During the opening credits, Molly is seen as a vibrant, healthy-looking person frolicking on a beach. And then, the movie, shows what Molly looks like in September 2019, when this story begins. She’s very thin and strung-out on heroin, with sores all over her face and no upper teeth. She’s disheveled and looks like the homeless person that she is.

Molly hasn’t talked to her mother Deb in years (the movie doesn’t say for how many years), but Molly has shown up unannounced at the front door of Deb’s home in suburban Riverside, California, to beg Deb for a place to stay. Deb says no and firmly tells Molly: “The deal was you wouldn’t come back until you were clean.”

Deb also tells Molly that Deb and Deb’s husband Chris (played by Stephen Root) changed the locks on their home because Molly and her junkie boyfriend Eric stole guitars and other items. Molly says that she and Eric are no longer together, but Deb remains unmoved. She shuts the door on Molly and tells her to come back when she’s clean.

After this “tough love” rejection of her daughter, Deb goes inside the house and is comforted by Chris, who tells Deb that she did the right thing and that she can’t back down from her resolve. Chris comments to Deb about Molly: “She can’t walk if you carry her.” (This movie is filled with trite platitudes that sound like slogans from a drug rehab poster.)

Molly doesn’t go away. Instead, she spends the night sleeping on Deb’s porch. And the next morning, after Molly promises that she’s ready to get clean, Deb relents and tells Molly to get in Deb’s car because Deb is driving her to rehab immediately. Molly tries to make an excuse to go in the house, by saying she hasn’t taken a shower in weeks. However, Deb refuses to let her in the house, and they drive to a detox center called Clear Horizons Recovery. The movie reveals that it’s Molly’s 15th trip to rehab in the 14 years since she became a drug addict at age 17.

During the check-in process, Molly says her main drug of choice is heroin, but she’s also recently done other drugs, such as methadone, crack cocaine, Vicodin and Adderall. Molly’s Medicaid insurance will only cover a three-day stay at Clear Horizons. After that, Molly expects to stay with Deb, but Deb still won’t fully commit to it yet. After Molly is checked into to detox center and as Deb walks away, Molly yells at Deb and calls her a derogatory name that rhymes with “witch.”

Back at home, Deb is struggling with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Deb is relieved that Molly is getting the help that she needs. On the other hand, Deb has been down this road with Molly too many other times before, and it’s always led to Molly relapsing back into drug use. Will this latest rehab stint work this time?

Deb tells Chris in a private conversation in their home how she feels about Molly: “Sometimes I get the feeling that I don’t want to love her anymore … This is the mess you married into.” Chris replies, “You always talk like that when she’s around. Stop doing it.”

Who is this dysfunctional family and how did they end up this way? Through conversations in the movie, it’s gradually revealed in layers what happened. Chris (who is retired) is the second husband of Deb, who works as a facialist in a hotel spa. When Molly was about 15 years old and a freshman in high school, Deb left her first husband Dale and their two children (Molly and Molly’s older sister Ashley) because Deb felt trapped and unhappy in an emotionally abusive marriage.

Deb lived apart from her children for about two years and let Dale take full custody. This estrangement caused a lot of bad blood between the family members. And even though Deb is shown making sincere apologies to a now drug-addicted Molly for abandoning the family, Molly still has a lot of deep-seated resentment against her mother. Meanwhile, Dale (played by Sam Hennings) has essentially cut himself off from Molly because of her constant relapses after promising to get clean.

How did Molly become a drug addict? When Molly was 17 years old, she sprained her knee while water skiing. A doctor prescribed her OxyContin. And as Deb describes it when ranting to Molly’s current rehab doctor, “no refill was denied” in this OxyContin prescription. Molly got hooked on OxyContin and then later turned to heroin. Molly also dropped out of high school because of her drug addiction.

At some point during her on-again, off-again drug use, Molly got married and had two children. But not surprisingly, the marriage didn’t last, and Molly lost custody of the children. Molly’s ex-husband Sean (played by Joshua Leonard) works in construction. Molly and Sean’s children are a son named Colton (played by Nicholas Oteri), who’s about 10 or 11 years old when this story takes place, and Chloe (played by Audrey Lynn), who is about 8 or 9 years old. Molly doesn’t see them on a regular basis, but Deb seems to keep in frequent contact with Molly’s kids, since they all live nearby.

Before Molly checks out of Clear Horizons, she and Deb have an assessment appointment with Clear Horizons physician Dr. Oritz (played by Carlos Lacamara), who has to listen to Deb berate him and blame medical professionals for prescribing OxyContin to people who end up getting addicted. Deb yells at the doctor by saying “you people” are responsible for Molly’s drug addiction. This isn’t the last that viewers will see Deb’s awful shrewishness.

Dr. Ortiz is calm and patient with Deb’s outburst (Molly is mortified) and explains that a post-rehab option for Molly is for her to take an opiate antagonist, which is a medication that supresses cravings for opiates. The doctor explains that this medication, which makes people “immune from getting high,” is an injection administered by a medical professional once a month. Dr. Ortiz also makes it clear that the medication only works on people who have no opioids and other dangerous drugs in their system. Otherwise, it could lead to serious health damage and possible death.

Molly and Deb want to get this opiate antagonist treatment right away. However, Dr. Ortiz explains that the earliest that Molly can get the treatment is in four days. Molly can no longer stay in the detox center because Molly’s insurance won’t cover it and her rehab bed has to go to someone else. And so, Deb lets Molly come home with her.

Most of the movie chronicles the four-day wait for Molly to get her first opiate antagonist treatment. And, unlike what the movie title suggests, it’s a miserable four days. Not surprisingly, Molly and Deb argue a lot, because Deb understandably has a hard time trusting Molly. Deb won’t leave any money or her car keys in places where Molly could steal them. Deb gives Molly a “burner” cell phone that she says Molly can only use to call family members or a medical professional.

Meanwhile, Molly goes through the expected heroin withdrawals, but the movie unrealistically spends just a few scenes showing Molly in agony in one day. She’s shown curled up in a fetal position, complaining about how cold she is. And there are the expected scenes of Molly vomiting. But after Molly’s first full day back in Deb’s home, Molly’s withdrawals aren’t really mentioned again, as if they were just some pesky aches and pains. It’s a very simplistic and inauthentic portrayal of heroin withdrawals.

The movie takes a more realistic approach in how Molly’s physical appearance has been ravaged by drug use. There’s a scene where Molly and Deb visit with a dentist named Dr. Stevens (played by Kim Delgado), who gives Molly a set of upper-teeth dentures to wear. Molly complains that the false teeth hurt because her inflamed gums are so sore. And speaking of sores, the makeup team of “Four Good Days” did a good job of making Molly’s face look like what can really happen to a hardcore drug addict.

Deb’s approach to having Molly live in the home is like a strict parent dealing with a child who is grounded. Molly has a suspended driver’s license because of past DUI arrests. But Deb says that even if Molly had a valid driver’s license, she wouldn’t trust Molly to drive any vehicle because of the possiblity that Molly would be tempted to drive somewhere to get drugs.

After a while, Molly becomes restless and frustrated with feeling like a prisoner in Deb’s home, so there’s more arguing between Deb and Molly. And where is Deb’s retired husband Chris during all this family drama? This movie is so sloppily written that there are long stretches where Chris is nowhere to be seen and he’s not even mentioned.

The house isn’t that big, but even if it were, Chris’ presence is almost like an afterthought in the movie. He vaguely seems to support Deb’s decision to let Molly stay in the house, as long as Molly stays clean, but he’s not in the movie enough to make a real impact. However, Root and Close have one pretty good scene together where Deb is ranting and yelling at Chris to say something and she calls him a “fucking wimp.” Chris explodes and gives bullying Deb the verbal smackdown that she deserves, by yelling back at her, “I’m not your punching bag!”

“Four Good Days” should be commended for not sugarcoating the reality that families who deal with drug addiction often have at least one enabler/co-dependent who hurts more than helps the addict. Deb has all the characteristics of being a toxic enabler/co-dependent. Deb thinks she means well, but she often makes things worse. A perfect example of her toxic enabling/co-dependency is a very irresponsible decison that Deb makes in the last 15 minutes of the film. It’s a decision that will make viewers really dislike this movie.

“Four Good Days” goes a little too overboard in showing Deb vaccillating between wanting to distrust Molly and wanting to coddle Molly. In one of the worst scenes in “Four Good Days,” Deb goes to a diner to have breakfast with her older daughter Ashley (played by Carla Gallo), who is estranged from Molly. Molly was supposed to be at this breakfast meeting too, but she backed out at the last minute. Ashley doesn’t seem too surprised.

Deb and Ashley start off having a good mother-daughter talk. Deb tells Ashley how Molly is doing. Ashley, who is an attorney and a single mother, gives Deb updates on what’s been going on in her life, including Ashley’s new relationship with a boyfriend. There’s a little bit of tension when Ashley comments that Deb is obsessed with Molly and Molly’s problems. Deb essentially admits it’s true.

Things take a turn in the conversation when Deb notices that she left her wallet at home. Deb wants to go back and get the wallet because she doesn’t want Molly to be alone in the house with any cash that’s easy to find. Ashley insists that she will pay for their meal and she orders Deb not to go back to the house. It’s Ashley’s way of telling her mother not to let Molly’s addiction take over Deb’s life.

Ashley continues to talk happily about her new boyfriend, but Deb has an expression on her face that she’s tuned out of what Ashley is saying. Ashley can tell that her mother is thinking about Molly possibly finding Deb’s wallet at home. And then, Deb suddenly gets up and leaves Ashley at the table without even saying goodbye. Horrible. Ashley is not seen or mentioned in the movie again.

Molly gets restless from being cooped up in the house, so Deb invites Molly to go grocery shopping with her. At the grocery store, they run into a former high school classmate of Molly’s named Coach Miller (played by Rebecca Field), who now teaches a health and fitness class at a local high school. Molly’s drug problems are apparently very well-known in the community, because Coach Miller tells Molly that people are rooting for her in her recovery.

Coach Miller says that Molly could be an inspiration/deterrent to the kids in Coach Miller’s class. She invites Molly to be a guest speaker in the class, to talk about the dangers of drug addiction. Molly politely declines because she says she’s not good at public speaking. The problem with this invitation is that Coach Miller doesn’t know if Molly (who is fresh out of rehab) is really the best person to lecture anyone about what it takes to have long-term sobriety.

But then later in the movie, Molly is later shown giving a tear-filled speech in front of Coach Miller’s students, while Deb is standing near the back of the class. Molly is both self-righteous and apologetic in her speech. Molly berates a smug student (played by Gabriela Flores), who says that she would never become a drug addict. And to throw in some more melodrama, Molly pulls out the dentures in her mouth so that the students can see Molly’s diseased, toothless gums. And then, Molly wails and sobs toward the end of the speech, as she tells Deb how sorry she is about the pain she caused.

During the car drive from the school, Deb tells Molly how proud she is of her. And then, Molly uses that moment to tell her mother that she wants to help other drug addicts in their recoveries. And by the way, Molly says, she wants to check in on a 15-year-old girl druggie friend named Sammy, because Molly is worrried about Sammy. And so, Molly begs her mother to drive to a drug-infested area to help Molly look for Sammy.

At first, Deb is dead-set against the idea. But she’s worn down by Molly’s pleading and drives to the area and tells Molly that she has five minutes to ask around for Sammy. This eventually leads to another ridiculous scene where Deb and Molly end up in a drug house, where Deb aggressively confronts a large man on drugs who could have a weapon on him. But Deb doesn’t think about these things when she loses her temper, which she does a lot in this movie.

“Four Good Days” isn’t all about Deb and Molly’s hostile conflicts with each other. They have some occasions where they try to repair their damaged relationship. In one scene, mother and daughter have a tender moment together when Deb gives Molly a much-needed facial treatment. And in another scene, Molly’s ex-husband Sean brings Colton and Chloe over to the house to visit. It’s a glimpse of how this fractured family could be if they can heal in the right ways.

But those moments of tranquil harmony are overshadowed by angry turmoil. After a while, it’s very obvious that Molly isn’t the only addict in the family. Her mother Deb is addicted to chaos. And she’s in deep denial over it, which makes her even more insufferable to watch.

Close’s immense talent as an actress is hampered by how the character of Deb veers into asburdity and self-delusion. Deb is intended to be a complicated, flawed person, but some of the decisions that Deb makes and how she handles situations actually make Deb more into a bad stereotype of a domineering, ill-tempered matriarch. “Four Good Days” director García and Close previously worked together on the drama “Albert Nobbs,” which earned Close an Oscar nominaton for playing the movie’s cross-dressing title character. “Four Good Days” is far from an Oscar-caliber film.

Kunis’ depiction of a flaky drug addict has moments of realism, especially in the first half of the movie, but there are other times when Kunis is over-acting. It’s almost as if she’s thinking that her portrayal of drug addiction in this movie will possibly get her nominated for major awards. It won’t. The rest of the movie’s cast members are serviceable in their very sparsely written roles.

One of the best scenes in the film isn’t with Deb and Molly. It’s a scene when Deb angrily confronts her ex-husband Dale (played by Sam Hemmings) and tries to shame him for not being in contact with Molly in the days since Deb told Dale that Molly was spendng time recovering in Deb’s home. In this scene, the pent-up resentment that these two ex-spouses have had for each other over the years comes out like a bomb exploding. Deb and Dale each blame each other in some way for Molly’s addiction, when in reality Molly is the only one who can and should take responsibility for her life.

One of the worst things about “Four Good Days” is that it starts off fooling viewers into thinking that it will be a realistic story of how drug addiction can damage relationships. And although some scenes crackle with intensity, the movie takes a very Hollywood approach to how these real-life issues are handled. The character of Deb gets angry with screwed-up daughter Molly for dragging Deb down with Molly’s problems. However, Molly and Deb are such grating, self-pitying characters that this whole movie is dragged down by their annoying antics.

Vertical Entertainment released “Four Good Days” in select U.S. cinemas on April 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Seberg,’ starring Kristen Stewart

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart in “Seberg” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Seberg”

Directed by Benedict Andrews

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, France and briefly in Mexico, the biographical drama “Seberg” has a racially diverse cast of white and black characters representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: The film tells the story of American actress Jean Seberg, who was the target of FBI surveillance because of her support of left-wing civil-rights groups such as the Black Panthers.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of Jean Seberg, Kristen Stewart (who plays Seberg in the movie) and people who like movies that have a very Hollywood version of real-life politically related events.

Jack O’Connell in “Seberg” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The title of the “based on true story” drama “Seberg” should have been renamed “Seberg and Some FBI Guy Who Tried to Warn Her That They’re Out to Get Her.” That’s because even though the movie is supposed to be about American actress Jean Seberg (played by Kristen Stewart) during the first few years that she was the target of a political FBI intimidation campaign, much of the movie also focuses on the life of fictional FBI agent Jack Solomon (played by Jack O’Connell), one of the people tasked with making her life hell but he has a guilty conscience about it.

It’s one of the many disappointing choices made by the filmmakers of “Seberg,” which was directed by Benedict Andrews and written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. Based on the end results of how this movie was made, the filmmakers didn’t think Seberg was fascinating enough to show a more well-rounded view of her life, and instead they gave a lot of screen time to show the personal life of a fictional FBI agent.

Because Jack Solomon is a fictional character and the filmmakers want to make sure that his personal story is given almost as much weight as Seberg’s, the movie cheapens her real-life ordeal by spending so much time on backstories/subplots for other characters that were invented for this movie. There’s even a cliché “good cop/bad cop” duo that is the epitome of trite screenwriting.

Seberg was 40 years old when she died of an apparent suicide in Paris in 1979. The movie mainly depicts the years 1969 to 1971, when Seberg was one of the people targeted in the FBI’s then-secret COINTELPRO campaign, which investigated and harassed high-profile and influential people involved in left-wing politics. Because of the Freedom of Information Act, the media revealed details of COINTELPRO, which was under the leadership of then-FBI director Herbert Hoover, a known right-winger. The exposé of COINTELPRO happened after Seberg’s death.

“Seberg” begins with a brief scene with the actress filming her first movie, 1957’s “Saint Joan,” which was a critical and commercial flop, but that rough start to her movie career is not really mentioned in “Seberg.” The movie also skips over her turbulent first marriage to French attorney-turned-film-director François Moreuil (they were married from 1958 to 1960) and their contentious collaboration when he directed her in the 1961 film “Time Out for Love.”

Also omitted from the story is how she met and married her second husband: aviator/novelist/left-leaning political diplomat Romain Gary, who was 24 years older than Seberg. Gary was her husband from 1962 to 1970. (She gave birth to their son, Alexandre Diego, when Gary was still married to his previous wife.) And the movie definitely doesn’t show what happened to Jean after her much-maligned “Saint Joan” film debut, when she went on to experience international stardom with her breakthrough co-starring role in the 1960 French New Wave classic “Breathless.”

Instead, “Seberg” skips over all of that to show Jean, Romain (played by Yvan Attal) and their young son Diego (played by Gabriel Sky) at their home in France, where Jean says goodbye to them as she leaves to work on a movie in Los Angeles in 1969. (During most of her career, Seberg lived in France and made French and American films, so she spent a lot of time in the U.S. for work.)

While she’s headed to Los Angeles, two FBI agents (who are invented characters for this movie) are shown eavesdropping and doing surveillance recording of an African American political radical named Hakim Jamal (played by Anthony Mackie), who is a Black Panther supporter but not an official member of the Black Panther Party. (The Hakim character is based on the real-life Raymond Hewitt, who was a member of the Black Panther Party.) One of the FBI agents is the aforementioned Jack Solomon, and the other is Carl Kowalski (played by Vince Vaughn).

It’s established fairly early on in the movie who’s the “good cop” and who’s the “bad cop.” While Jack takes a more open-minded and methodical approach to his work, Carl takes a more aggressive “witch hunt” approach. While they’re spying on Hakim, the name of Jean Seberg comes up because the FBI has noticed that she’s been donating large sums of money to left-leaning civil-rights groups such as the Black Panthers and the NAACP. Carl thinks that the FBI should start spying on Seberg too, but Jack doesn’t want to rush to judgment and wants to see if there’s proof that she’s a threat to the U.S. government.

While sitting in the first-class section on the plane to Los Angeles with her agent Walt Breckman (played by Stephen Root, in another of the movie’s fictional character roles), Jean notices a commotion on the plane. It’s Hakim, who’s very angry with a flight attendant because Betty Shabazz (Malcom X’s widow) has been seated in the coach section, when Hakim says that Betty should be in the first-class section. It’s a “don’t you know who she is/show some respect” moment that catches the flustered flight-attendant off-guard.

The flight attendant tells Hakim that she can’t make the accommodation without a first-class ticket, and Hakim gets even angrier and says that he will pay for the ticket himself and he’s not going to sit down until the matter is resolved. Hakim makes it clear that he thinks the flight attendant is being racist. Jean is intrigued by Hakim’s fiery passion and tells him that he and Betty can have her and Walt’s seats. Walt looks slightly horrified.

The next thing you know, after the plane disembarks, Hakim is among a group of Black Panthers on the tarmac holding a photo op with the press.  (Remember, this was back in the 1960s, when people were allowed to be in certain areas of an airport where they can’t go now.) Jean sidles up to the group and holds up her fist in a “Black Power” gesture with them to show her solidarity.

Of course, this bold move doesn’t go unnoticed by Jack and Carl (or should we say Mutt and Jeff), who now know that Jean Seberg has definitely made it known to the public that she supports the Black Panthers, who were considered enemies of the state at the time. And in case viewers haven’t figured out that Carl is a racist, he makes it clear when he speculates why Jean wants to hang out with Hakim and the Black Panthers: “Who knows? Maybe she’s got a taste for dark meat on the bone.”

And wouldn’t you know, it isn’t long before Jean shows up in the middle of the night at the house where a married Hakim is staying to meet with other radical activists. While alone in the house, Hakim and Jean spend a little time flirting, and then they hop into bed together. The FBI has recorded it all.

Carl is infuriated and immediately wants to put Jean under intense surveillance, since he’s decided she’s now a “danger to society.” The movie implies that what really triggered the FBI witch hunt against her wasn’t the monetary donations to activists but because this famous white actress slept with a known black radical.

Carl takes this information to his superiors, and it isn’t long before the FBI approves of spying on and harassing Jean Seberg. While she’s away from her rented home to work on a film set, Jack breaks into the home and plants a bugging device on her phone. Meanwhile, as Hakim and Jean continue their hot’n’heavy affair, Hakim warns her that because he’s under FBI surveillance, she’ll become a target too.

At first, Jean doesn’t believe Hakim, but she eventually finds out the hard way how correct he was. Jean starts hanging out more with radical activists and donating money to their causes. She doesn’t believe in violence and instead chooses to support causes such as educational programs for kids and raising money to help improve low-income African American communities. Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale (played by Grantham Coleman) makes a very brief appearance in the story.

Hakim is more than happy to take Jean’s donations, but he tells Jean: “You’re running in here with nails looking for a cross to die on … You’re playing with fire.” We’ll never know if the real Jean Seberg ever received this type of corny lecture, but the words are particularly cringeworthy, considering that the real Jean Seberg starred in “Saint Joan,” a movie where she played French heroine Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake.

Another thing that Hakim says to Jean that sounds straight out of Hokey Screenwriting 101 is when he tells her his philosophy on civil-rights activism: “One mind at a time. If you can change that, you can change the world.” He sounds more like Mother Teresa than Malcolm X.

There’s also a soap-opera-ish subplot where Hakim’s wife, Dorothy Jamal (played by Zazie Beetz, in a thankless role), finds out about the affair. How does she find out? Carl and Jack call her anonymously and play her a recording of Jean and Hakim having sex.

Not long after Dorothy confronts Jean about the affair (and Dorothy is a lot calmer about it than most spouses would be), Jean and Hakim end their fling. But the wheels have already been set in motion for the FBI to make Jean’s life miserable. She’s followed everywhere she goes, and she knows her house is bugged. And one day when she’s away at work, a bumbling FBI agent kills her Chihuahua because the dog won’t stop yapping when the agent is snooping around the house.

Speaking of FBI agents, the movie wastes a lot of time showing the personal lives of Jack and Carl. Jack’s wife Linette (played by Margaret Qualley) is a medical student who becomes increasingly disturbed by the signs that the FBI is harassing Jean Seberg. How does she know? Because Jack brings home FBI files that show the FBI is stalking Jean, and her leaves this paperwork indiscreetly out on the kitchen table. When Linette asks Jack about these files, he snaps at her and tells her it’s none of her business. There are also a few unnecessary scenes of Jack and Linette socializing with friends.

Meanwhile, Carl is every bit the jerk at home as he is on the job. His wife and young daughter cringe in fear when he loses his temper, which is pretty much any time they don’t do what he tells them to do. It turns out that Carl has a particular hatred of left-wingers because his adult son (who lives in San Francisco) has become a radical hippie. Did viewers really need to know all of this information for fictional characters? No.

“Seberg” then goes to even more ludicrous levels when Jack takes it upon himself to anonymously call Jean and warn her that the FBI harassment will get worse unless she disassociates herself from the civil-rights movement. Jean’s response is to yell an obscenity at him. You can’t really blame her, because she doesn’t know if the call is a prank or not, since Jack doesn’t identify himself.

The constant surveillance and harassment take a toll on Jean’s mental health and her marriage. She starts to drink heavily and she becomes very paranoid. While on a film set, she demands that a cameraman be fired because she’s convinced he’s a spy planted by the FBI. She yells at people who she thinks might be staring at her too long. And there’s one melodramatic scene where she’s tearing up a room while looking for surveillance, and she ends up in a sobbing heap on the floor.

While in Mexico filming a movie, she has an affair with a local man. And when the FBI hears about her pregnancy, they make sure to plant a story in the media that Hakim is the father. The scandal resulted in a tragedy that won’t be revealed in this review if you don’t know what happened in real life.

Stewart gives a hit-and-miss performance in this film. She’s at her best in the first half of the story, when there are glimpses of the passions that drove Jean to do what she did, knowing that she would risk her reputation and career. But when Jean goes through her downward spiral in the second half of the story, Stewart’s performance becomes a not-very-convincing caricature of a woman having a nervous breakdown. And FBI agent Jack does something at the end of the movie that defies all credibility of what someone in his position would do.

Unfortunately, because the movie skips all of Jean’s life before she got involved in radical activism, it doesn’t provide any context over what led her to this point and how she came to have these political views. Her relationship with second husband Romain is also an incomplete sketch, since viewers never see how Jean and Romain fell in love, as a basis of their marriage that’s tested during this traumatic period in their lives.

The movie’s supporting actors, costume design and production design are all very good, but those assets are wasted on an uneven story that oddly seems too concerned with making a heroic figure out of one of the FBI agents who willingly participated in this psychological torture.

Amazon Studios released “Seberg” in select U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020. The movie originally had a very limited U.S. release in December 2019, to qualify for awards.

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