Starring: Rebecca Hall, Tracy Letts and Michael C. Hall
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Running time: 1 hr 55 mins
Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
There is a saying in the television news business that goes, “If it bleeds – it leads.” Definition – people are drawn to seeing other people suffer. Have you ever watched the news and the anchor looks into the camera and says, with a serious voice, “the video we are about to show you may be disturbing?” And if so, have you ever turned away? So imagine now that you’re watching television on July 15, 1974 and you hear the pretty broadcaster say, “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.” Would you turn away?
The story of television personality Christine Chubbuck, who actually spoke the above words, “Christine” is an in-depth look into a problem that was either misdiagnosed or just ignored: depression. We meet Christine (Rebecca Hall in an award-worthy performance) sitting in front of a camera and “rehearsing” an interview she’d love to have with the disgraced President Richard Nixon. She uses these tapes to study her on-camera “language.” She also uses a pair of hand puppets to express many of the things she’s afraid to voice. Once an important part of Boston news, Christine now finds herself at a little station in Sarasota, Florida, where she went to relieve the stress in her life. Even though she has a crush on the stations anchorman (Michael C. Hall), she doesn’t date and, at age 29, is still a virgin. Her depression is obvious to us, the viewers, but to those around her she just seems put-offish. But with the opportunity to go to Baltimore being dangled in front of her, she begins to change.
I have to admit that I barely remember the incident that made Christine Chubbuck infamous. Television often blurs its reality. That’s why, in the film, Christine continually rails against the set decorator who insists on using artificial flowers. She strives for reality in all things. Ms. Hall gives a thorough and nuanced performance, making Christine both sympathetic and almost unlikable. The supporting cast also acquits itself well, with special mention going to Mr. Hall and the great Broadway star John Cullum as the owner of the news station.
With the success today of so many female television reporters, including Diane Sawyer, Martha Radditz and Katie Couric, it’s hard to remember how tough women had it in the workplace 40 years ago. The fact that one of the characters watches “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is all we, as the audience, need to see. See you on the news.