In 1974, as the Nixon presidency was unraveling due to Watergate, so too was the life of a local Sarasota, FL, TV news reporter named Christine Chubbuck. Despite being the most talented on her team, she found her personal and professional life careening out of control and eventually committed suicide on air during a broadcast. It has taken 42 years for her story to reach the screen, but director Antonio Campos and writer Craig Shilowich finally have done it. As I say in my video review above, they have been blessed to cast British actress Rebecca Hall in the title role. She stuns as the fragile woman who clearly is like the smartest girl in class but keeps putting roadblocks in her own way, unable to deliver on all that potential.
Right after I saw this movie, which debuted at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, I quickly Googled everything I could find about the real Chubbuck and discovered just how uncanny Hall’s work was in being able to capture her. This is a truly tragic story, but if I am making it sound like a total downer, it isn’t. Detailing events that occurred two years before the release of Network, Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant dissection of the dumbing down of TV news, Christine also shows the beginnings of the anything-for-ratings mentality that was creeping into that world. Not as pervasive as the recent Jake Gyllenhaal pic Nightcrawler, this movie is more a character study of a very promising young woman who keeps getting in her own way. Feeling she is above being forced to do trivial human-interest fluff about a woman and her chickens and such, Chubbuck wants to deliver stories of more social substance in a world that seems to be imploding. But this puts her constantly at odds with her news director Michael (Tracy Letts), who wants the tried and true.
She lives at home with her mother Peg (a terrific J. Smith Cameron) — still a virgin and even turning what could be the possibility of romance with her station’s anchor George Ryan (Michael C. Hall) into another lost opportunity at personal happiness. Her colleague and seemingly sympathetic protégé Jean Reed (Maria Dizzia of Orange Is The New Black) tries to be a friend but has her own ambitions. Despite the dark nature of much of this material, Christine is wryly amusing in parts, particularly in its depiction of the goings-on at a local TV news operation in that era.
Letts, so good also in this year’s Indignation, stands out by effortlessly inhabiting one of those regional TV news guys with an eye more on numbers than quality. You can see why Chubbuck was depressed about her circumstances. One scene where she persuades him to view her footage on an “important” scoop she thinks she has, instead becomes an odd and inarticulate pitch that is a window to a pending breakdown. It’s heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch someone with so much going for her start drifting into a personal abyss. That haunting scene is acting at its finest.
Hall nails this role in every way, never caving in to melodramatic moments but going very interior in capturing the essence of this woman on the brink. It is a towering performance that rates very highly in a year of great female roles. This is one that should not be forgotten. Producers are Shilowich and Melody C. Roscher. The Orchard releases Christine on Friday in New York, followed by other cities in the weeks ahead. Not to missed.
Do you plan to see Christine? Let us know what you think.