“Christine” dramatizes the final weeks in the life of Christine Chubbuck, the 29-year-old Florida newswoman who, 42 years ago, shot herself in the head on the air after experiencing a string of professional and personal disappointments.
As a character portrait, the film fares so-so, presenting its subject’s depression and other struggles superficially.
But Rebecca Hall, in the title role, creates a captivating protagonist.
Director Antonio Campos, whose credits include “Simon Killer,” again displaying an interest in dark extreme behavior, operates in a more commercial mode with this entertaining drama written by Craig Shilowich and suggesting a blend of “Network,” “Network News,”
“Nightcrawler,” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (whose theme song Campos even inserts into the story).
At a Sarasota, Fla., TV news station, in 1974, Christine Chubbuck (Hall) hosts a community-interest show but wants to be doing hard-core high-profile news. This being the 1970s, she has a boss (Tracy Letts) who says things like “You’re a feminist. You think that the way to get ahead is by talking louder than the other guy.”
Strongly principled, Christine also refuses to write ratings-friendly sensational stories. “If it bleeds, it leads,” her boss barks.
Also dissatisfied at home, Christine lives with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), whose new boyfriend irks her.
News that the station owner (John Cullum) is planning to transfer two broadcasters from the staff to his bigger-market Baltimore station prompts Christine to, rather clumsily, vie for the job. But with her flat vocal delivery, severe manner and long dark hair, she’s no match for the “little blond from sports.”
Meanwhile, what Christine envisioned as a date with her anchorman crush (Michael C. Hall) turns out to be a new-age therapy session in which he tries to ease her anxieties.
Additional challenges include a doctor visit that yields unexpected news.
While viewers know what Christine Chubbuck will do at climax time, the film doesn’t address what, deep inside her, prompts her to put a
gun to her head, read a statement promising a new first in “blood and guts” journalism, and blow her brains out on camera.
The movie offers little insight into her mental-health condition or who she truly is beneath her social klutziness and brusqueness. Her interactions with supporting characters merely skim the surface.
Still, Hall’s quietly extraordinary performance as a woman disconnected from the world she so desperately wants to glow in makes the movie worth seeing.
Both funny and sad as she walks through a house party as if she where were an alien navigating a foreign planet, Hall fills Christine with so much humanity that her tragedy makes an impact.
Starring Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, J. Smith-Cameron
Written by Craig Shilowich
Directed by Antonio Campos
Running time 2 hours