clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rebecca Hall a stunner as a doomed reporter in ‘Christine’

Rebecca Hall as Christine Chubbuck in "Christine." | The Orchard

“In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts,’ and in living color, you are going to see another first: attempted suicide.” – Sarasota TV reporter Christine Chubbuck on the morning of July 15, 1974, just before she drew a revolver and shot and killed herself during a live broadcast.

Christine Chubbuck is just shy of her 30th birthday, but she seems to be trapped in a state of arrested development, much of it her own making.

It’s as if she’s 15 going on 30.

She lives at home with her mother, and throws a fit when mom goes on a romantic getaway for a few days, leaving poor Christine to fend for herself.

Christine’s bedroom walls are decorated with album covers of the time (the mid-1970s), featuring sensitive soft rockers such as Gordon Lightfoot and the Carpenters. Her record player is decorated with stickers. The overall décor in her bedroom would lead you to believe a high school sophomore lives there.

Christine is a virgin. She has a crush on a man, but she nearly has a breakdown when he asks her to dinner. And she’s an obsessive note-taker, scribbling and underlining and writing down ideas in ALL CAPS.

There’s tightly wound, and then there’s Christine. If you worked with her and you saw her coming down the hall in your direction, you’d be frantically searching for a way to turn left or turn right or pretend you’ve forgotten something at your desk and you have to turn around. Anything to avoid another awkward encounter with Christine.

Rebecca Hall gives one of the great performances of the year as the title character in “Christine,” an intense, stomach-churning, unblinking drama based on the true story of a 29-year-old reporter for a Sarasota television station who in the summer of 1974 committed suicide on the air.

Working on a relatively limited budget, director Antonio Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich do an admirable job of re-creating the state of local television news in the 1970s.

Anchors read the news into desktop microphones, shuffling their paper scripts to get from story to story. Remote cameras are huge and unwieldy. Editors have to literally cut film. Weather forecasters are just beginning to work with relatively sophisticated technology.

And viewers are growing restless with staid, talking-head, overlong, community-service-type broadcast journalism.

Steppenwolf legend Tracy Letts continues his recent streak of brilliant supporting performances (“Imperium,” “Wiener-Dog,” “Indignation”) as Mike, the hardboiled, chain-smoking news director who seems incapable of getting through the day without exploding at his on-air and behind-the-scenes troops. His clashes with Christine are window-shattering, as she keeps fighting his dictum for stories where the visuals are the most important and sensationalism triumphs over responsible, balanced journalism.

While trying to figure out how to get promoted to a bigger market, Christine battles depression, stomach pains and social anxiety. Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”) verges on parody but has some solid moments as a handsome, none-too-smart news anchor. Maria Dizzia is wonderful as a camerawoman who is the closest thing Christine has to a real friend.

“Christine” is filmed in browns and oranges and muted greens, resulting in a suitable period-piece look. Nearly forgotten but fantastic pop confections fill the soundtrack, e.g., “Tighter, Tighter” by Alive and Kicking, “Rock Your Baby” by George McRae and even Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around,” better known as the opening theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” (A show from the 1970s about a young single woman trying to make a go of it in a television newsroom.)

At times “Christine” looks more like a well-done TV movie than a feature film. The scenes between Christine and her hippie mother (J. Smith-Cameron) are a bit over the top, and not nearly as compelling as the workplace drama.

Rebecca Hall is the primary reason to see this film. Her Christine is a smart, beautiful, talented woman suffering from a serious disease. She is clinically depressed. From her hunched-over frame to her obsessive analysis of her on-air performance (she watches tape of herself and wonders aloud if the simple act of leaning toward an interview subject is too much of an affectation) to her utter inability to enjoy herself on a date or at a party, Christine is a walking cry for help.

Co-star Tracy Letts is scheuled for a Q&A after the 7 p.m. Friday screening at the Music Box.

★★★

The Orchard presents a film directed by Antonio Campos and written by Craig Shilowich. Rated R (for a scene of disturbing violence and for language including some sexual references). Running time: 120 minutes. Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.