Review: Christine (Sundance)
PLOT: The true story of Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) - a TV reporter working in Sarasota circa 1974 who committed suicide live during a broadcast
REVIEW: The Christine Chubbuck is one of the journalism industry’s most infamous cautionary tales. It even inspired Sidney Lumet’s NETWORK. Every J-School student has heard how Chubbuck, in the thrall of a horrible depression, pulled a handgun out and shot herself in the head while anchoring a broadcast. Frighteningly, Chubbuck had already written her own obituary in news copy beforehand. A movie about her life has been in the planning stages for years, and in a case of peculiar timing, Sundance 2016 features the debut of two movies about her life, with this being the more high-profile, star-driven one.
Directed by festival favorite Antonio Campos (AFTERSCHOOL, SIMON KILLER), CHRISTINE is a highly unsettling portrait of a woman unraveling. For Rebecca Hall, it’s a showcase performance which is good enough that she utterly disappears into the character. Chubbuck is presented as a highly-driven woman, struggling to achieve her lofty career goals while simultaneously mourning the fact that she’s never had a significant relationship and is utterly alone as she prepares for her thirtieth birthday, save for her flaky mom (J. Smith-Cameron).
To Campos’ credit, Chubbuck’s story is not turned into a victim narrative or sensationalized. She’s shown to be an often difficult, unpredictable person, although she always maintains the audience’s sympathy even if it’s clear she’s terribly unhinged. While long (it clocks in at over two hours) and deliberately paced, Campos’s film is an artful exploration of loneliness. It’s highly cinematic and Campos’s take is the kind that should help generate some solid buzz out of the festival.
While Hall dominates every frame, the supporting cast is excellent, with Smith-Cameron particularly good as Chubbuck’s mom, who bristles against her daughter’s joyless approach to life. In a way, she seems like the daughter while Chubbuck carries the burden of responsibility, even if it’s shown to be something she chose for herself rather than having it foisted upon her. Also excellent is Maria Dizzia as the closest thing Chubbuck has to a friend at work, being a camerawoman with her own ambitions to succeed in a male dominated industry.
Michael C. Hall also contributes a good performance as the stud anchorman Christine has an unrequited crush on. While he could of been presented as vacant, he’s made sympathetic, if somewhat hare-brained in his hip seventies new age approach to dealing with life. Playwright Tracy Letts (KILLER JOE, BUG), who appears in three Sundance films this year (INDIGNATION and WEINER-DOG are the other two) is excellent as Chubbuck’s hard-nosed boss, who despises her pushiness and treats her with sexist disdain, although similar to Hall’s character, he’s given a few scenes that make him somewhat sympathetic.
Given the subject matter, CHRISTINE is a difficult watch and not an easy sell. Nevertheless, Rebecca Hall is excellent, and Campos’s direction is top-shelf. It’s a hard, challenging film but it’s often quite good.