Jean Seberg, a miscast mess at 17 in Otto Preminger's Saint Joan, a sensation in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless at 20 and a suicide at 40, never kept any journals. Writer and director Mark Rappaport makes up for the oversight in a mock documentary that is alternately hilarious and heartbreaking. Actress Mary Beth Hurt, who was born in Seberg's hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa, stands in for Seberg as Rappaport orchestrates a guided tour of her life through film clips and historical footage. At one point, Hurt watches a scene of Seberg as Joan of Arc and groans: "I was too short, too girlish -- and that voice. Enough!" It took a series of bad movies, abusive husbands and J. Edgar Hoover -- enraged at Seberg during the 1960s for her involvement with the Black Panthers and black men -- to throw this Joan on the barbie.
Rappaport had his wicked way with another dead movie icon four years ago in Rock Hudson's Home Movies, but both films are too compassionate to flay them as exploitation. He gives Seberg her due as an actress in Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse and Robert Rossen's Lilith, and laughs -- as Seberg would -- at the idiocies of Airport and of Paint Your Wagon, in which Seberg had an ill-fated fling with co-star Clint Eastwood. Hurt puts a wry sting in the barbs about the mistreatment of women in Hollywood, which reflected far beyond. Rappaport proves himself an astute social critic in a hypnotic film that blends fact, gossip and instinct to arrive at its own kind of truth.