Country: USA, UK
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Craig Shilowich
Cinematography: Joe Anderson
Michael C. Hall
American director Antonio Campos’ third feature, CHRISTINE is an surgical recount of the true story about Christine Chubbuck (Rebeca Hall), a field news reporter of Sarasota, Florida in the 70s, beleaguered by mental stress and career setback, she shocked the world with an extreme act during one of her live report, sending off her wrath and despair to the ever rating-thirsty, sensation-seeking TV media, what she left behind is a whiff of pungent irony and a pang of grief.
It is Rebecca Hall’s personal showpiece first and foremost, this underrated and often underutilized UK actress is among the best of her peers but fame and recognition have still eluded her. Here, she takes it on herself in submerging into the character of Christine, from appearance, utterance to accent, she completely knocks audience dead, especially for those who are familiar with her other works, her transmogrification immediately leavens the less intriguing personal travails as we are witnessing how life pushes her into the cul-de-sac.
Christine is an ambitious, prepossessing 29-year-old single woman, and admitted by her boss Michael (Letts) that she is the smartest amongst all the staff, yet, when a promotion chance crops up, guess who are in the receiving end? Not Christine, because Michael and her are on bad terms, why is that? There is a rift in their work ethic, (as usual) he wants to raise the ratings by juicy stories, but she prefers those of a more life-affirming and human nature. But, that is not the decisive reason, as the plot thickens, Christine caves in and willing to track down some eye-catching incidents through a method à la Dan Gilroy’s NIGHTCRAWLER (2014), still, why a seemingly competent candidate cannot get what she rightfully deserves? Sexism, that is the bane underlying Christine’s tragedy, and Campos strenuously brings that home to viewers, a prevalent pathology derives from men towards women, not any woman, but those who can match (or surpass) them on an intelligent level, desirable but independent, refuse to be a soft touch.
Michael is the typical sexist boss, opinionated, contemptible but his leverage on Christine is not as important as George (Michael C. Hall), Christine’s colleague, the news anchorman whom she has cottoned to but dares not to act it out, a well-maintained plot-line wavering between an ostensible mutual attraction and a platonic work-mate affinity plays up in the critical moment, when George finally asks her out for a date and gloats over the promotion in front of her face at the end of it, is he that insensitive? Maybe, but is George culpable for Christine’s kamikaze action? Prima facie, he might be not, it is another “he is just not that into her” scenario, at any rate, he cares for her, introduces the group therapy to her simply for her benefit, he hopes she well, that is the bottom line (driven by guilt probably), yet what he doesn’t reveal to Christine becomes the final nail in her coffin, however unwittingly he is, because deep down, he is as much a sexist as Michael and he might even not realize that, that’s the nitty-gritty of the whole story. As corny and excruciatingly honest-to-goodness as that, a man sabotages a woman’s chance just because she can be a threat to him intelligently, there is something deeply hypocritical in George’s action and Michael C. Hall nails the subtlety to the core.
On the petticoat front, apart from Christine unwavering under the spotlight, and her clueless hippie mother Peg (a solid Smith-Cameron, or Ms. Kenneth Lonergan), interestingly, the film’s coda centers on Jean (Dizzia, an un-showy but unexpectedly tender performer), the modest and rational camera operator and Christine’s best friend, who is a few years older than her, but similarly, leads a solitary life and all she can do in the aftermath is eating a few scoop of ice-cream and singing along the theme-song of The Mary Tyler Moore show on radio, just like what she does on a bad day (a friendly suggestion Christine should have taken), no wonder she is not on that promotion list as well, only if there is enough ice-cream in the world for all the women who take the short end of the stick in their professional sphere just because their gender.
Relishing in its 70’s retro atmosphere and minutiae, CHRISTINE doesn’t sensationalize its headline-worthy source and rounds out an enthralling character study of a hapless troubled soul (although, more meat could be added to the calm-before-the-storm segment), whose vitality is gradually consumed by an unhealthy microcosm she is entrapped, but its true grit lies in its cogent message because forty-odd years after, Christine Chubbuck’s story is alas, still very much relevant, obviously.