by Hope Madden
There’s a moment in Christine – Antonio Campos’s clinical character study of ‘70s on-air reporter Christine Chubbuck – when a violently depressed Christine chastises her mother’s parenting. Had she been a better parent, maybe Christine would understand how the world worked.
There is such honest, bewildered frustration in that moment. With that single thought, a career-best Rebecca Hall exposes Chubbuck’s isolated, lonely, crippled soul.
We’re invited to join the stormy decline of Chubbuck’s life. An awkward, severe professional at odds with the era’s sensationalistic news trends, Chubbuck clashes with her Sarasota station’s news manager (Tracy Letts) and pines for its handsome anchor (Michael C. Hall).
Chubbuck’s professional frustrations and personal isolation come to a head simultaneously. Thanks to Hall’s meticulous performance, what we can see is that the emotionally brittle, deeply depressed Chubbuck hasn’t the resilience to contend with it.
Hall’s body language, her gait, her facial expressions and her speech amplify her character’s growing turmoil. It’s a creeping darkness that grows to be almost unbearable before bursting into an eye-of-the-storm calm that’s even eerier for its realism.
Though Craig Shilowich’s screenplay leans too heavily on frustrated spinsterisms as a handy excuse for Chubbuck’s behavior, and Campos’s direction intentionally keeps Christine at arm’s length, Hall’s harrowing turn guarantees that Christine Chubbuck makes an impression.
Campos’s disturbing 2012 horror Simon Killer remained intentionally distant as well – a provocative approach that suited the mystery of the titular sociopath. Here, though, it feels too chilly, almost heartless.
That seems inappropriate, because neither Chubbuck nor those she left behind were heartless. In fact, one of the great successes in Hall’s performance is her ability to personify Chubbuck’s amazingly off-putting, alienating behavior while simultaneously pointing out that most of us are only a few social misjudgments away from pariah status ourselves.
Inevitably, the film feels like a 110-minute prelude to Chubbuck’s infamous on-air suicide, and that’s where Campos and Shilowich’s weaknesses show. What was at the heart of Chubbuck’s final display – institutional sexism, unending loneliness, mental illness, professional integrity, irony?
The filmmakers showed a great deal while exploring very little, but thanks to a performance likely to be remembered come awards season, Rebecca Hall makes sure Chubbuck’s struggle resonates.