Film Review – Christine
Insecurity can be crippling, especially in the workplace. Having a vision without the ability to properly verbalize or act on it is a suffocating, lonely feeling. (If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience, no further comment.) Christine Chubbuck battled these demons daily. Tragically, her often untreated clinical depression led to an event we still discuss and dissect over 40 years later. Christine, directed by Antonio Campos and out today, deftly explores the weeks leading up to her televised suicide.
Rebecca Hall (The Town, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) stars as Chubbuck, a determined if awkward news reporter in 1970’s Florida. Hosting a segment entitled Suncoast Digest, Christine regularly attempts to draw attention to the ever-growing dangers of alcohol and drug use in her community. Her station manager (Tracy Letts), unfortunately, would prefer she go a more tawdry, sensational route in order to keep up with their competitors. This creates near-daily tension between the two.
On the more sympathetic end of the spectrum is fellow anchor George Ryan (Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall), a man seemingly intent on getting Christine out of her shell. He expresses genuine interest in her as a person, a move that seems to perplex her to no end. Her crush on him is obvious, but unfortunately ends up sending her deeper into her downward spiral.
Christine’s closest friend is her own mother (J. Smith-Cameron), whom she lives with after an alluded previous breakdown of sorts. She, too, does everything in her power to crack the code that is Christine Chubbuck to no avail.
Rebecca Hall’s performance calls for a balancing act of the highest order and she is, thankfully, more than up for the challenge. In a perpetual state of arrested development (chiding her mother for her pot and dating habits, still a virgin at age 29), this portrayal could have easily slid into exploitative or ham-handed territory yet never comes close. Like her family and co-workers, we strive for answers that never present themselves. Christine is not outwardly depraved. Occasional scenes of her selflessly volunteering her puppeteering skills at a children’s hospital (as the actual Chubbuck also did) imply a greater desire to bring happiness to others. Couple this with her already-stated compassion for the impoverished and you find yourself simply wishing she’d extracted a similar effort to her own well-being.
Biopics are a tricky genre, in general, but in this case I’d imagine exceedingly so as we (presumably) know going in what all these various parts will lead to. In the wrong hands, this particular story could have been a disaster. A tasteless countdown to a real-life tragedy spawned from mental illness. Campos, though, maintains a firm and subtle grasp on the increasingly dark material. In some ways it feels this troublesome account is more relevant now than ever. Our salaciousness need for “blood and guts” journalism hasn’t softened between now and then. A sobering reminder of its effects are perhaps just what we need right now.