This year brings two widely dissimilar studies on Christine Chubbuck, the local Florida television journalist that committed suicide on live television – the documentary Kate Plays Christine and Antonio Campos’s considerably more traditional Christine. In the narrative version, Rebecca Hall plays the disturbed Chubbuck in the weeks leading up to the mythologized event and her news station cohorts (played by Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, and Maria Dizzia plus others) take a deeper part in her story. The two films create interesting dynamic in contrast unlike similar competing films close in release (think Capote and the less successful Infamous), illuminating both the subject and the larger societal implications of her case when seen in close proximity.
This Christine belongs mostly to Rebecca Hall’s stunning and alive performance, with challenges unlike anything the actress has ever been granted. Hall possesses a gallows humor underneath her pain that is unexpected and quite effective in helping portray Chubbuck as a flesh and blood human being as the film doubles down on her enveloping psychosis. Equally impressive is her ability to play the woman’s nuance and more unhinged moments with a cohesiveness that the script doesn’t always achieve. As heartbreaking as it is terrifying, Hall just delivered a career high performance that will rattle you.
The film unfortunately isn’t up to her level, despite a strong start that doesn’t force the coming grimness of what we know is coming onto the whole film. The grace of Hall’s seamlessness can’t be found in the film as it jumps tones and visual adeptness – the soundtrack is also frustratingly cranked to eleven with 70s folk rock at every turn. Though Christine’s final act is a thrilling section, it loses grip of the character once it is clear she’s planning for her suicide. In the epilogue centering on the fallout for her station coworkers and mother (J. Smith Cameron) that might work better on the page than screen, there’s a lack of confidence in how to conclude her story.
The film is at its strongest when it plays it cool but with a wink, losing something propulsive when it becomes as manic as Chubbuck. Its skewering of sensationalized media is often uncooked and the inconsistent craftsmanship doesn’t always serve Hall’s performance either. Christine doesn’t always know where to find its target.
Ultimately the film doesn’t quite marry its media treatise to its intense character study, concluding on a note unrelated to any of its thematic interests. While it succeeds at building its impending doom to mirror the cloud of depression surrounding Chubbuck, it lacks a certain follow through and finesse. Luckily, its standard biopic beats never fall flat thanks to the intriguing subject and Hall’s powerhouse work, so the film is an invigorating sit nonetheless.
With wicked humor Christine is more light on its feet than you might expect, even despite its flaws. The film may not linger on your thoughts as strongly as its documentary counterpart, but Rebecca Hall’s dexterous performance is one you cannot miss.