Rarely does a movie make me cry. On the few occasions it’s happened, it was at the end of the film. “Christine” not only brought me to tears during the climax, but on two other occasions earlier in the movie, as I watched Rebecca Hall give a painfully resonant and hauntingly brilliant performance as 1970s TV news reporter, Christine Chubbuck.
You may recognize the name and know a little about the story of Chubbuck, a one-time Sarasota, Florida on-air TV personality. If so, chances are it’s how she died that you’re familiar with. “Christine” brilliantly portrays Chubbuck’s final months, the events that led to her infamous act of pulling-out a handgun and committing suicide live on the air during a newscast.
Every scene and line of dialogue is designed to get us to this staggering event. You know it’s coming, and yet, the moment is still incredibly jarring. The shooting (which forever changed television, and inspired the iconic film, “Network”), may leave the biggest impression, but it’s just one of more than a dozen gripping, heartbreaking and poignant moments throughout “Christine”.
Hall embodies Chubbuck, who was 29 years old in 1974 and into her second year at ABC affiliate WXLT (in “Christine” the call letters are changed to WZRB). Her socially awkward attributes were difficult to ignore. She was brilliant, overly-sensitive and very good at her job, but also extremely insecure, especially in dealing with criticism from News Director/Station Manager Michael (played by Tracy Letts). Their interactions are especially insightful. Chubbuck was also dealing with depression. Several times there are references to Christine’s past problems “in Boston”, though they are not spelled-out specifically, adding to the mystery of this very complicated and troubled woman.
The early 70s was the time when local TV news was becoming sensationalized, and Michael starts pushing for juicier crime stories (“If it Bleeds, it Leads”), urging Christine to get away from the interviews with chicken farmers and stories on the local strawberry festival. But this is the kind of reporting Christine loved.
Her spirits are tested further when the station owner comes to town. He’s looking to see which on-air and production talent he can pluck from this small station for his new station in Baltimore, which was a Top 30 market (and still is today). Christine becomes obsessed with getting that new job. Hall’s mesmirizing performance, as complications arise that prevent Christine from achieving her goals – how she reacts as, piece by piece, her professional and personal life begins to crumble around her, is heartbreaking. Her weird and strained relationship with her roommate (who also happens to be her mother) only makes her more of a ticking time bomb.
I could write pages dissecting every scene in “Christine”: a very uncomfortable interaction Chubbuck has with a young couple at a restaurant celebrating their three-year anniversary. The “date” Christine has with news anchor George Ryan (played masterfully by Michael C. Hall) that goes in completely unexpected and devastating directions. A “Yes, But…” group therapy session scene that will tie your stomach in knots. And each of the three puppet shows Christine performs at a hospital for special-needs children. The way she incorporates the troubles of her life into these sessions intended for kids will leave you breathless.
“Christine” is 33-year old director Antonio Campos’s third feature film (he was a producer on “Martha Marcy May Marlene”). He and writer Craig Shilowich completely capture the atmosphere and look of local TV news in the 70s, from the set design, to the clothes, to the spot-on dialogue. You feel the pressure that Christine and, to a lesser extent, her colleagues were dealing with: the pressure to get higher ratings; the pressure to get a promotion; the pressure on the women in the newsroom to succeed in a male-dominated field and, for everyone, especially Christine: the pressure to be loved. The ensemble cast is outstanding and the creepy, “click-clack” score, at times reminiscent of ticking clocks on classic game shows, adds to the drama.
Tonight’s Top Story: “‘Christine’ is One of The Best Movies of 2016”. It’s also one of the most important, largely thanks to Hall, who represents everyone, especially those in the media business, whose goal it is to matter. If there are five better Lead Actress performances this year I will be stunned. Hall is impossible to ignore.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Christine” gets an A.
Running Time: 120 min.