Review: ‘Freaky,’ starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton

November 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton in “Freaky” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Freaky”

Directed by Christopher Landon

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Blissfield, the horror comedy “Freaky” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old girl and a middle-aged serial killer swap bodies in a freak magical spell accident. 

Culture Audience: “Freaky” will appeal primarily to people who like teen-oriented horror with adult humor and who have a high tolerance for bloody gore.

Kathryn Newton, Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich in “Freaky” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The horror comedy “Freaky” is a zany and often-raucous ride that puts a gruesome but memorable spin on the body-swapping concept. The entire premise of the movie is “Freaky Friday” meets “Friday the 13th.” Directed by Christopher Landon (who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Kennedy), “Freaky” delivers as many laughs as it does explicitly brutal scares with all of the violent murders that happen throughout the entire story.

“Freaky” also cleverly lampoons many of the clichés and over-used tropes in teen comedies and horror movies. “Freaky” is from Blumhouse Productions, the same production company behind Landon-directed horror flicks “Happy Death Day” and “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.” Blumhouse movies have been “hit or miss,” in terms of quality. “Freaky” is a definite hit.

The movie begins in the fictional U.S. city of Blissfield, with four teenagers hanging out and partying at night at the upper-middle-class home of one of the teens. The house belongs to the parents of Ginny (played by Kelly Lamor Wilson), who looks like a popular blonde cheerleader type. Ginny’s parents are away on a trip, which is why Ginny and her friends have the house to themselves. The other three teenagers at the house are Ginny’s boyfriend Evan (played by Mitchell Hoog); Sandra (played by Emily Holder); and Isaac (played by Nicholas Stargel). Evan and Isaac are athletic types, while Sandra is a sensible brunette type.

It’s Wednesday, November 11. While the teens are gathered in the living room and drinking alcohol, they start talking about the urban legend of the the Blissfield Butcher, also known as The Butcher, a mysterious serial killer who began murdering people, especially teenagers during homecoming season, back in the 1990s. This serial killer, who seems to have stopped his murder spree in the 2000s, was never caught.

Is he dead? Is he in prison for another crime? Or did he just disappear and become a law-abiding citizen? No one seems to know, but the teens have a laugh at how “geriatric” the killer would be if he were still alive. It’s at this point that horror aficionados know that the killer will be somewhere in the house and ready to go on a rampage.

Sure enough, The Butcher (played by Vince Vaughn) has somehow snuck in the house. (He wears a mask, just like a prototypical serial killer such as Jason Vorhees from the “Friday the 13th” movies or Michael Myers from “Halloween” movies.) And one by one, The Butcher kills all four teenagers, who each have vicious deaths. The Butcher ambushes Isaac in a wine cellar and rams a wine bottle down his throat. The killer then traps Sandra in a bathroom and repeatedly slams a toilet seat on her head, in order to beat her to death.

The Butcher than chases Evan onto to the home’s tennis court, breaks a tennis racket in two, and uses both ends to simultaneously stab Evan on both sides of his head. As for Jenny, she manages to hide and elude the killer for a while, but he eventually finds her and impales her on the wall of the living room. That gives you an idea of how over-the-top the murders are. And The Butcher has stolen a rare dagger in a glass case that’s in the living room.

The next day (Thursday the November 12), a widowed mother and her two daughters, who all live in the same house, are gathered around the dining table for breakfast. Coral Kessler (played by Katie Finneran), who’s a sales clerk at a department store called Discount Bonanza, has been a widow for about a year. (It’s never stated how her husband died.) Coral’s older daughter Charlene Kessler (played by Dana Drori) is in her 20s and is a police officer in Blissfield. Carol’s younger daughter Millie Kessler (played by Kathryn Newton) is 17 years old and a senior at Blissfield Valley High School.

There’s tension in the household because Charlene disapproves of how Coral has been overprotective of Millie and has been using Millie as an emotional crutch. Coral has also been drinking heavily and tries to keep it a secret, but her daughters know that Coral has been drinking so much that she sometimes passes out. Coral goes to great lengths to hide her depression by putting on a falsely chipper demeanor.

Blissfield Valley High School is having a homecoming dance, but Millie tells Charlene that she won’t be there. Why? Because Millie and Coral made plans to see a regional production of “Wicked” together. Coral thinks that homecoming dances are just excuses for teenagers to get drunk or cause mischief, so she’d rather have Millie be safe and keep her company. Charlene thinks it’s pathetic that Coral won’t let Millie have any fun in ways that teenagers in high school are supposed to have fun.

Millie’s two best friends at her school are smart and outspoken Nyla Chones (played by Celeste O’Connor) and openly gay and sassy Josh Detmer (played by Misha Osherovich), who think that Millie is also missing out on a lot of fun by catering to Coral’s needs over her own. Millie is very introverted and too shy to do anything about her crush on a fellow student named Booker (played by Uriah Shelton), who sits next to her in their woodworking class.

The instructor of the woodworking class is Mr. Fletcher (played by Alan Ruck), who belittles Millie any chance that he gets. Every teen-oriented horror movie seems to have clique of bullies. In “Freaky,” there’s not one but two of these cliques.

The “mean girls” clique is led by a queen bee named Ryler (played by Melissa Collazo), who corners Millie at her locker to make snide comments about Millie’s discount clothes. Ryler is a stereotypical, conceited snob who cares more designer labels and other superficial things instead of someone’s character. She’s also a gossip who like to get “dirt” on other people and use it to her advantage.

The “bullying jocks” clique—Phil (played by Magnus Diehl), Squi (Tim Johnson) and Brett (played by Ezra Sexton)—make sexist and crude comments about Millie. (One of them says they would only have sex with Millie if she had a paper bag over her head.) Booker is a friend to these lunkheads, but he doesn’t participate in bullying Millie. However, Booker doesn’t exactly stop his pals from making mean-spirited comments to Millie either.

Early on in the movie, before Millie goes through a transformation, certain students at the school make offhand comments implying that Millie a mousy plain Jane. It’s a little hard to believe, given that Newton looks like a pretty Hollywood actress throughout the entire movie. The way that some of the mean girls treat her, you’d think that she comes to school in rags, but Millie’s wardrobe isn’t out of the ordinary.

It isn’t long before news spreads all over the high school about the four murdered teens who were killed the night before. However, the homecoming football game that night isn’t about to be cancelled. Millie is a beaver mascot for the school’s football team, the Blissfield Valley Beavers. It’s a thankless job and she gets no respect for it. In fact, some of the “cool kids” make fun of Millie when she wears the costume.

We get it. Millie is bullied by a lot of people at school. And that means when a serial killer inhabits her body, watch out.

The body swap happens after the football game, when everyone has gone home and Millie is stuck on a bench outside the football field, waiting for her mother to pick her up. Coral hasn’t been answering Millie’s calls and text messages because she’s passed out drunk. It’s late at night, there’s a killer on the loose, and Millie is getting scared because her phone battery has died. Right before her phone stopped working, Millie was able to call home and talk briefly with her sister Charlene, who had just arrived at the house and told Millie that their mother was passed out drunk again.

It’s now past midnight. And it’s Friday the 13th. And then, just like a typical serial killer in a slasher movie, The Butcher appears from out of nowhere and chases after Millie. He catches up to her in the football field and stabs her in the shoulder with the dagger that he stole. The heavens open up and some strange mystical things happen because that particular dagger has been used.

By this time, The Butcher has his mask off and is about to kill Millie. Just then, Charlene shows up (because she knew that Millie needed a ride home) and sees Millie being attacked. Charlene fires her gun, the killer runs away, but the dagger is accidentally left behind. The dagger is brought to the police station as evidence.

The next morning, Millie wakes up in her bed. It must be the fastest recovery ever from a stab wound. There’s no mention of Millie ever being in a hospital to get the wound treated. Maybe that’s because the hospital would’ve found out the same thing that this person who’s woken up in Millie’s bedroom has found out: Although the body looks like Millie’s, the person inside the body is the Blissfield Butcher. Likewise, Millie has now discovered that she is in the body of the Blissfield Butcher, who lives in a creepy loft-like place that’s filled with morbid-looking souvenirs and decorations.

When Millie finds out that she now looks like The Butcher, she goes to school to tell Josh and Nyla about the transformation. Nyla and Josh are predictably freaked out and don’t believe it first. There’s a big chase scene where they think The Butcher is trying to kill them. A police sketch of the serial-killer suspect, which was presumably based on Charlene’s eyewitness description, has been shown in the media and it’s a pretty good composite drawing of The Butcher.

While Josh and Nyla run through a school hallway to try to escape what they think is The Butcher, Josh shouts to Nyla, “You’re black! I’m gay! We are so dead!” It’s snarky commentary on the stereotype of someone from a minority group dying first in a horror movie.

Millie ends up convincing Josh and Nyla that she really is in The Butcher’s body, by telling them things only Millie would know. Through basic research, the three pals find out something important about the dagger that was used in the attack on Millie: The dagger is an ancient Aztec artifact called The Dola, which was used in ritual sacrifices. If two souls swap bodies while The Dola is being used, the souls have 24 hours to get back in the correct bodies—using The Dola in the same way that it was used when the souls were transferred—or else they will be trapped in the wrong bodies forever.

And so begins the race against time to get the The Dola dagger. The expected hijinks ensue about mistaken identity. And because the two people in this body-swapping comedy are of opposite genders, there are the predictable gags about male/female body parts and sexually suggestive situations that happen with people who don’t know about the body swap.

Because so much of “Freaky” has a lot of teen slang and of-the-moment technology, the movie is eventually going to look very dated. But the performances from the cast will make “Freaky” a crowd-pleaser for generations to come. Newton and Vaughn are hilarious to watch as they inhabit the personalities of Millie and The Butcher who are trapped in the wrong bodies. The humor goes a long way in taking some of the disturbing edge off of the horrific murders that are depicted in the movie.

Meanwhile, Osherovich is a total scene stealer who has some of the best lines in the movie. Some people might take issue with how his Josh character might be perceived as a flamboyant gay stereotype. However, Osherovich brings a lot of authenticity and respect to the role, which shows what it’s like to be a teenager who’s proud to be gay. Rather than being marginal tokens, Josh and Nyla actually do a lot of heroic things in the movie.

“Freaky” does a great balancing act of embracing horror clichés in a satirical way while rejecting other horror clichés in a defiant way. And there are a few surprisingly sweet sentimental moments. “Freaky” has some plot holes and very predictable scenes, but that doesn’t take away from how well the cast members portray these characters under the competent direction of Landon. The violence in the movie is cruel, but the movie has an underlying message of tolerance in showing how people shouldn’t be judged by their appearances alone.

Universal Pictures released “Freaky” in U.S. cinemas on November 13, 2020.

Review: ‘The Binge,’ starring Skyler Gisondo, Dexter Darden, Eduardo Franco, Grace Van Dien, Zainne Saleh and Vince Vaughn

August 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dexter Darden, Skyler Gisondo and Eduardo Franco in “The Binge” (Photo by Paul Viggiano/Hulu)

“The Binge” 

Directed by Jeremy Garelick

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “The Binge” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three friends who are seniors in high school want to win a drug-fueled contest called The Gauntlet, which happens on the one day of the year when all drugs are legal to use for people ages 18 and over.

Culture Audience: “The Binge” will appeal mostly to people who like watching mindless teen comedies.

Skyler Gisondo and Grace Van Dien in “The Binge” (Photo by Paul Viggiano/Hulu)

It seems like “The Binge” was a movie that was inspired at least partially by “The Purge” franchise, and the filmmakers decided to use the same gimmick of “one day of the year that certain crimes are legal” and put it in a very derivative and not-very-funny teen comedy. “The Purge” horror franchise (which includes movies and a TV series spinoff) is all about showing what happens in the U.S. on the one day of the year that all crimes are legal. “The Binge,” which is far from a horror story, instead shows what happens in an unnamed U.S. city, specifically among a group of high schoolers, on the one day of the year that all drugs become legal to use by anyone who’s at least 18 years old.

Besides the obvious “binge and purge” analogy, “The Binge” takes a lot of its cues from “The Purge,” by having the same concept that the reason for this “one day it’s legal to commit certain crimes” is to act as a deterrent to commit the crimes in the future. The idea is that when people get to release these pent-up criminal urges out of their system and are allowed to commit these crimes for one day out of the year, they’ll be so repelled by the horrible results, that it will make them less likely to commit the crimes during the other days of the year when the crimes are illegal.

In the world of “The Binge” (which was directed by Jeremy Garelick and written by Jordan VanDina), alcohol and nicotine are among the drugs that are illegal except for on Binge Day. It’s explained in the beginning of the movie that the reason for this modern-day Prohibition is because America’s drug problem got so out-of-control that lawmakers decided to ban all drugs that have been medically proven to cause diseases (such as cancer) and deaths.

The high schoolers who are at the center of this story sometimes talk about their parents reminiscing about the “good old days” when they could get drunk and it wouldn’t be a crime. (The school in the movie is called American High, which is a cheeky nod to the American High production company that made this film.) Binge Day is therefore a big deal to the teens, especially those who are old enough to participate.

In addition to “The Purge” ripoff idea, “The Binge” recycles most of the over-used tropes that are found in teen movies, including the average-looking, not-very-popular guy who has a secret crush on a good-looking, popular girl. The “average guy” is the story’s protagonist whom the audience is supposed to root for when he keeps bungling his changes to impress the girl he wants to date. In “The Binge,” this guy is Griffin Friedlander (played by Skyler Gisondo), who spends almost the whole movie trying to work up the nerve to ask his dream girl out on a date.

Griffin’s crush is Lena (played by Grace Van Dien), and she’s a student at the same high school, where they are both seniors. And, of course, Griffin wants to ask her to the school’s prom, but he’s too shy. Lena is nice to Griffin, because they’ve known each other for several years, but she seems to want to put him in the casual “friend zone.” 

The average guy/protagonist usually isn’t a complete loner, because he usually has a sidekick/best friend, who’s more confident/wacky/extroverted than he is. In “The Binge,” that character is Hags (played by Dexter Darden), who has his own secret crush who goes to the same school. Hags wants to date bratty troublemaker Sarah Martin (played by Zainne Saleh), who predictably wants nothing to do with him.

And often, in formulaic teen movies like this one, there’s a third person who ends up in the “underdog” group of friends who spend most of the movie trying to achieve the same goal. The “third wheel/weirdo” in the story is Andrew (played by Eduardo Franco), who’s not very close to Griffin and Hags, but Andrew ends up hanging out with them and becoming their friend by default because he wants to be their “wingman” during Binge Day.

Andrew wants to help Hags and Griffin win The Gauntlet, a Binge Day endurance contest to see who can take the most hard drugs and drink the most alcohol without overdosing and ending up in a hospital or dead. There’s no real prize for this contest, except bragging rights and a photo that hangs on a wall in some random place that’s never explained in the movie. The participants in this contest are mostly people in their teens and 20s.

Griffin is the type of student who’s obedient and doesn’t like taking risks, so he’s very reluctant to participate in The Gauntlet. Hags convinces Griffin that they should enter the contest because it will impress the girls they want to impress. When Lena tells Griffin that she’s thinking of binging on Binge Day, he decides to enter The Gauntlet.

Griffin is also motivated to impress Lena when he finds out that a mystery admirer has asked her to the school’s prom by giving her a series of riddle-filled notes that the admirer leaves as clues to his identity. Lena hasn’t given an answer yet because she doesn’t know who her mystery admirer is, but she assumes it’s a very popular student whom she has a crush on but she thinks he might be out of her league. Part of the movie’s plot is a “race against time” for Griffin to impress Lena and ask her to be his prom date before she can find out the identity of her mystery admirer.

And let’s not forget about the parents in the movie, which makes these authority figures into the same tired stereotypes that have been seen before in dozens of other teen comedies. The head of the school is Principal Carlsen (played by Vince Vaughn), who is tyrannical and takes pleasure in punishing students who break the rules. Therefore, he’s always on the lookout for the students to do something wrong so he can bust them. And what a coincidence: Principal Carlsen also happens to be Lena’s father, making it even more nerve-wracking for Griffin to ask Lena out on a date.

Griffin’s parents Karyn and Chester (played by Jessica Kirson and Elon Gold) and Hags’ parents (played Deanna McKinney and Godfrey) are somewhat generic characters that are briefly shown in the movie. Something happens in the movie to explain why these parents don’t interfere in their kids’ Binge Day plans.

Every teen movie usually has at least one parent who behaves inappropriately. And in “The Binge,” that character is Andrew’s single mother Diedre (played by Eileen Galindo), who inflicts abuse on him one minute (she puts out her cigar on his tongue during an argument) and then acts lovey-dovey the next minute, by sweetly telling him, “I love you … Give me a kiss.”

During a school assembly, Principal Carlsen lectures the students about the dangers of Binge Day and tells the students who are 18 years old that they shouldn’t participate in Binge Day, even though it would be legal. As a scare tactic, Principal Carlsen shows examples of some people who died or were permanently disabled because of drug-fueled antics they indulged in on Binge Day. Of course, it’s a scare tactic that doesn’t work because plenty of the legal-age students are planning to participate in Binge Day.

Participants and attendees of The Gauntlet are given a wristband to enter the place where The Gauntlet is being held. While showing up unannounced in the boys’ locker room, Principal Carlsen sees that Griffin has one of these wristbands. A nervous Griffin makes up a lie that the wristband isn’t his and that he accidentally found the wristband. Principal Carlsen then confiscates the wristband and warns Griffin that he better not participate in Binge Day.

How obnoxious is Principal Carlsen? In his conversation with Griffin in the locker room, Principal Carlsen speaks of troublemaking partier student Sarah in these derogatory terms: “That bitch has chaotic energy. She’s like a scorpion in a toaster.” And when Principal Carlsen sees Hags in the locker room, he tells Hags: “Try to find a nickname that’s a little more normal, like Lucas or Kwan.” These are lines that are supposed to pass as jokes in the movie.

After Principal Carlsen has taken Griffin’s wristband, misfit student Andrew ends up hanging out with Griffin and Hags because Andrew has the type of wristband that Griffin needs to get into The Gauntlet event. Instead of selling the wristband to Griffin, Andrew bargains with Griffin and Hags to be their “wingman” pal during Binge Day and to help them win The Gauntlet. Andrew’s bullying fraternal twin brother Seb (played by Esteban Benito) is also a contestant in The Gauntlet, so it’s clear that Andrew has another reason to want to win the contest.

“The Binge” has a lot of typical “teens who want to party” shenanigans in the scenes leading up to The Gauntlet. Most of these scenes aren’t really funny and have been done much better in other similar movies. It comes as no surprise that an animal (in this case, a cow) ends up being an unwilling part of these partying antics, which leads to the inevitable “No animals were harmed” disclaimer in the movie’s end credits.

One of the problems with “The Binge” is that so much of it is repetitive filler. And the cast members do nothing outstanding in their performances, although Franco has a few scene-stealing moments. “The Binge” is supposed to be raunchy, but it holds back on showing a lot of adult-oriented debauchery during the first two-thirds of the movie. Most of “The Binge” is about straight-laced Griffin acting horrified at some of the silly scenarios that happen on the way to The Gauntlet.

The one truly original moment in the movie is actually a little bizarre and out-of-place: The cast members break into a song-and-dance number called “We’re Gonna Get High.” It’s not supposed to be a drug-induced hallucination, but something that spontaneously happens while they’re all under various degrees of intoxication. The idea is that they’ve lost their inhibitions together and somehow magically came up with this song-and-dance number together.

This “We’re Gonna Get High” musical number looks and sounds like something that would have been in an episode of “Glee” if the episode was about getting stoned at a party. The song is very much in the mold of a high-school musical. In other words, there’s nothing really edgy about it, even if the lyrics mention cocaine, heroin and PCP. The song was written by “The Binge” director Garelick, screenwriter VanDina, Christopher Lennertz and Matt Bowen. It seems as if this random musical scene in “The Binge” was concocted as a sugary-sweet way to deflect any criticism the movie might get for glorifying drug binges. What’s actually more offensive is that “The Binge” just isn’t funny.

As for the idea that people would willingly ingest as many drugs as possible in order to win a stupid contest, “The Binge” makes no attempt to show that the main characters could put themselves in danger by doing this medically dangerous stunt. It should come as no surprise that no one in this group dies or ends up in a hospital, because that would ruin the limited comedy of this mindless film. “The Binge” wants to be a teen version of “The Hangover” meets “The Purge,” but almost all the jokes and scenarios fall flat. Instead of “The Binge,” this movie should be called “The Cringe.”

Hulu premiered “The Binge” on August 28, 2020.

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.