If it bleeds, it leads.
Life is precious. Bad times always get good again eventually. Winter turns to spring and you feel the warmth of the sun on your face again. So what drives someone – anyone – to the point of despair sufficient for them to ignore all of the potential upturns and to take their own life?
Christine tells the tragic tale of Florida TV news reporter Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide live on air in 1974. Yes, this is a spoiler, but since most people have some sense of what a film is about before they go to see it, it’s not really a big one. And I think in this case, knowing the outcome is pretty essential since otherwise you will likely spend 2 hours getting increasingly irritated by the erratic behaviour of the lead character and may possibly turn it off. With this movie, the telling is in the journey – not the destination.
London-born Rebecca Hall (“The Town”) plays the 30 year old virgin Christine; a damaged article with past mental issues, she has been moved by her mother Peg (J Smith-Cameron) from Boston to Florida to make a fresh start. But the station is struggling and Christine’s insistence on pursuing dull but worthy stories, such as zoning disputes, isn’t helping: she is driving her boss (Tracy Letts) to distraction. Despite her spiky demeanour and unapproachable nature, her colleagues including Jean (Maria Dizzia), the show’s anchor (and potential deflowerer) George (Michael C Hall) and weatherman Steve (Timothy Simons from “Veep”) all do their best to support her. It is part of the true tragedy of the piece that her downward spiral continues despite their best efforts.
Hall is outstanding in the role. She portrays the crazily compulsive behaviour of Chubbuck extremely well: perfectionism gone wild as she attempts to edit out 3 seconds off a clip while the film is already in the machine. At times the other-worldliness and creepiness of her character become extremely unsettling; an excruciating scene with a married couple in a bar being a case in point. Overall it’s an extremely thoughtful portrayal that is as quiet and unassuming as Ruth Negga’s in “Loving” (but without the smiles or the charm). I would like to think that after the Oscars team picked the ‘obvious contenders’ of Portman, Stone and Huppert, and with a place ‘reserved’ for Streep, they were left with Negga and Hall and had a “dammit, we can only pick 1 out of 2 here” moment.
Letts as the crotchety station chief also delivers a fine performance, and it’s a shame that the script never gave us the chance to see his post-shooting reactions, since the ‘if only’ ramifications for him in particular must have been huge.
In retrospect, Chubbuck’s actions were bizarre: taking her life in such a public way (and insisting the show be recorded for her “reels”) strikes of narcissism and a bitter revenge. While the film is no doubt based on the true recollections of the real-life participants, the screenplay by Craig Shilowich, in an impressive writing debut, for me never quite closed that loop: why this way rather that a car and a hosepipe?
Directed by Antonio Campos, this is never an easy watch. It’s a bit like watching a car crash in ultra-slow motion, and pretty much mandates that you watch an episode of “Father Ted” afterwards to cheer yourself up! But it’s a fascinating study in mental decline, and it’s a useful reminder that it behoves all of us to pay more attention to others around us and reach out with real help if needed before the worst can happen.
Fad Rating: FFFf.