‘Christine’

'Christine'

IN 1974, CHRISTINE Chubbuck, a reporter for a small news station in Florida, shot herself live on air, and that is, on the surface, what Antonio Campos’s new film is about. But that description does a gross disservice to a very empathetic portrait of a complex woman, played with unrelenting intensity by Rebecca Hall in the performance of her career.

Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a reporter for struggling news affiliate WZRB in Sarasota, Florida. She’s the most intelligent person there, according to her boss Mike (Tracy Letts), but she refuses to report the sort of news he wants. She’s also a perfectionist, and has similarly high expectations of the station, but she’s charmingly unpretentious, singing along (badly) to music in her car and bending down to drink through a straw rather than pick up the glass. She speaks her mind, to the constant irritation of Mike, who is pushing his team to report ‘juicier’ stories in an effort to save the station’s plunging figures. ‘It’s simple math,’ Mike says. ‘Want higher ratings? Find juicier stories.’ ‘That’s not math,’ says Christine. ‘That’s logic.’


There’s a temptation, with these sorts of things, to settle down to a little armchair psychiatry, but Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich seem to have treated Christine as a character study for its own sake, and the film is respectful and empathetic enough in its treatment of Chubbuck to satisfy anyone who might claim there’s anything exploitative about it.


Christine’s awkward, too, but never ridiculous. She mutters to herself in the mirror in her tiny bedroom, and interrupts a couple having dinner to tell them how fortunate they are. But she has things on her mind. For one thing, she’s worried about the stomach pains she’s been having, and she’s liable to bite her nails and stare anxiously through windows.

There’s a temptation, with these sorts of things, to settle down to a little armchair psychiatry, but Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich seem to have treated Christine as a character study for its own sake, and the film is respectful and empathetic enough in its treatment of Chubbuck to satisfy anyone who might claim there’s anything exploitative about it. Chubbuck starts to behave increasingly erratically as the film moves on, and knowing about her impending on-air suicide creates a constant state of tension that might not be there otherwise, but Christine is still intensely watchable because Chubbuck is so intensely likeable. A large part of that likability is squarely down to Hall, who puts in the performance of a career in a career of good, if supporting performances (The Prestige and Vicky Cristina Barcelona to name two). Every little hand gesture or line of dialogue reflects something about a woman who most people only know for a single, fatal action.


Coll Anderson’s highly effective score imbues the film at the beginning with a light-hearted atmosphere that hints that Christine is not the grim death-march you might expect it to be, and as the film trundles on the score changes to reflect Christine’s changing mood.


Coll Anderson’s highly effective score imbues the film at the beginning with a light-hearted atmosphere that hints that Christine is not the grim death-march you might expect it to be, and as the film trundles on the score changes to reflect Christine’s changing mood. And Christine looks the part, too: it’s filled with plenty of horrible mustard-yellows and browns and other sins against good taste, and the whole thing looks as washed-out and depressed as its lead character. You have a creeping sense during the earlier conversations between Chubbuck and Mike that the film might be trying to critique the sensationalism of news in the same way as the 1967 film Network (‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’), and this crops up again and again throughout the film but fails to develop.

Most biopics deal in some way with grand or glamorous people or themes. Take Selma, for example, or The Imitation Game. Christine doesn’t, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. Thanks to Campos and Shilowich’s sensitive approach, and the wonderful performance of Hall, you’ll feel that although you don’t know why Christine Chubbuck did what she did, you do know a little more about her and her world, and that seems to be enough.

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