Sometimes people are able to triumph over the odds and sometimes they’re not. Christine Chubbuck falls into the latter category. But the biopic Christine will truly break your heart as it shows just how hard Chubbuck fought to step back from the brink.
Based on true events that transpired in the 1970s as the country grappled with Watergate, Rebecca Hall plays the titular character, a television reporter at a small local station in Sarasota, Florida. She is one of the most intelligent, competent people in the newsroom where she works, but obstacles from both within and without plague her. The astute, well-informed pieces Chubbuck airs at the station are constantly pushed aside for more sensationalistic stories, and she has to constantly grapple with the open, casual sexism of the period. When the enormous pressure she puts on herself is magnified after a big promotion for a larger station opens up, it might just be the final straw.
Chubbuck also obviously suffers from some form of depression. The film never states it, because none of the people around her, not even the supportive and well-meaning mother she resides with, can properly articulate the ailment which is magnifying all of Chubbuck’s self-doubt, self-deprecation, and general social anxiety, which is so great that she remains a virgin at 29. It makes every attempt to help Christine fall flat in one way or another; it’s either too little or too late to really overcome the work, health, and personal issues she’s struggling with.
Instead, what we see is a woman slowly give up on herself. Rebecca Hall has quietly but steadily built a career out of playing roles with a more reserved power to them, and this one will probably be the highlight. Her gifts are also perfectly matched by director Antonio Campos and writer Craig Shilowich, who both clearly know how to build a slow, steady burn. Christine is not a hot mess, her world is not glamorous, and her story is poignant because she comes off as a deeply imperfect person. People do wrong by her, and she occasionally does wrong by them, she’s sometimes funny, and often brusque and unreasonable.
However, the movie does not completely do her justice. Sometimes it uses her just as her contemporaries do. Her struggles at the station, at a time when news is just beginning to succumb to the values of ratings and exploitation, along with discussions of gun ownership, feel a bit too convenient at times. Chubbuck’s loneliness also comes across with a refreshing lack of sexism, but the lack of focus on the very successful work she did do, along with an almost complete dearth of information about her family life and upbringing, reduces her life to one horrific moment, which the film’s poignant last scene inadvertently reinforces. When the credits rolled, I longed to see a photo or clips of the real-life Christine, or how her life and death affected her colleagues and the general public. Such a lack of closure or context can even make a feature as powerful as this one feel frustratingly incomplete.