PLOT The story behind the infamous on-air suicide of television personality Christine Chubbuck.
CAST Rebecca Hall, Tracy Letts, Michael C. Hall
RATED R (brief violence, adult themes)
PLAYING AT Roslyn Cinemas and Sag Harbor Cinema.
BOTTOM LINE A gripping, often agonizing character study with a tour de force performance by Rebecca Hall.
In the summer of 1974, television reporter Christine Chubbuck asked to read the morning newscast for station WXLT in Sarasota, Florida. After covering several stories, Chubbuck promised viewers “another first — attempted suicide.” She then drew a revolver and shot herself in the head.
Chubbuck’s on-air death, which serves as the climax to the biographical drama “Christine,” made national headlines and became an eerie foreshadowing of Paddy Chayefsky’s black satire, “Network.” So if we all know how “Christine” ends, why watch it?
One reason is Rebecca Hall, who gives a tour de force performance as the talented, ambitious, deeply troubled Chubbuck. Another reason is that “Christine” isn’t just a movie about one woman’s downward spiral. This empathetic and insightful film, directed by Antonio Campos and written by Craig Shilowich, serves as a cautionary tale for anyone whose problems have seemed insurmountable and whose personal failings have seemed inescapable — which is to say, just about all of us.
“Christine” is a heartbreaking movie about the kind of difficult person we’ve all known or been. She’s a pain at work, disdainful of her station’s new emphasis on “blood and guts,” and also combative with her stressed-out boss, Michael (the excellent Tracy Letts, a playwright on a four-film acting streak this year). Chubbuck moons over handsome anchor George (Michael C. Hall) but barely acknowledges her friendly co-worker Jean (Maria Dizzia).
Jean’s prescription for depression: Have some ice cream and sing along to the radio. “It’s a simple trick,” she says kindly.
That’s excellent advice, but Chubbuck either can’t or won’t take it. “This isn’t one of your moods, is it?” says her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), as Chubbuck launches into a manic episode filled with weird story ideas and nasty outbursts at the office. When a date with George finally materializes but doesn’t go as expected, it’s clear that her breaking point has arrived.
With its soundtrack of listless soft rock and accusations of “feminism” from her boss, “Christine” suggests that culture as well as nature played a part in Chubbuck’s downfall. In the end, though, Christine controls her own fate — a lesson that’s sometimes easy to forget.