Bookmark and follow our exclusive coverage of the Sundance Film Festival 2016.
“She’s my favorite person.”
We’ve seen the depression movie. You know the one I’m talking about. There’s always a close-up of water slowly dripping from a bathroom faucet. A blueish hue hangs over every scene. There are Dutch angles of the depressed staring into the mirror. The successful takes don’t necessarily buck the trend but still manage to resonate, like Anton Corbijn’s Ian Curtis biopic, Control, or Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Tackling depression is as dramatic a tale as you can tell about the inner sufferings of a human being. Good or bad, it has to rely on moody moods and wallow in darkness, right?
What Christine gets right above all else is that it comes at depression from a different angle. Director Antonio Campos (Afterschool) evades drone and downpours in favor of ‘70s soft rock and bright skies. It’s ultimately a tale of two halves, although Rebecca Hall remains pitch-perfect throughout. Her portrayal of Christine Chubbuck may or may not be a perfect representation of the late reporter, but her depiction of a depressed individual is spot-on. She never plays Christine as a caricature. She plays her with mood swings — the way the disease works. A subplot and a longer-than-necessary runtime threaten to undercut Hall’s performance, but in the end the movie succeeds as a solid investigation into the day-to-day life of one suffering from the depression.
Campos keeps it light from the get-go. The first half is chock-full of intentional laughs, showcasing the highs and lows of a mid-‘70s local news show. The supporting cast is game, with playwright/actor Tracy Letts playing the head of the news team, Michael C. Hall as their lead anchor, Orange Is the New Black’s Maria Dizzia as a producer and Christine’s closest friend, and Veep’s Timothy Simons as the weatherman. When the movie enters dark places, they do not. This proves important. One person’s internal suffering is not contagious.
However, it’s Rebecca Hall’s movie. We follow her from the start, struggling to find her voice on the Sarasota, Florida, news program that’s facing ratings issues. “If it bleeds, it leads,” head producer Michael (Letts) insists. Christine’s local human-interest stories covering strawberry festivals and locals in love isn’t cutting it any longer. An opportunity arises for a possible move to Baltimore, and she knows she needs to search for darker stories if she wants a shot. Around this time, she discovers she needs an operation to remove a cyst in her stomach. The operation is minor, but could possibly cause issues when trying to conceive later on. Did I mention she lives with her mother in a small two-bedroom apartment? How about feeling unnoticed around someone she has taken a romantic interest in (Michael C. Hall)?
Depression creeps up on you whether or not you have that dream apartment or job, but constant stress and disappointment in Christine’s life become too much to bear. People offer advice that works for them. A hug here. Ice cream and singing in the car there. “Yes, but” therapy sessions. Campos presents these moments in a fashion that depicts the helpers as clueless, but well-meaning. It works for them — the non-afflicted. It’s heartbreaking to watch as the story stretches along.
Or should I say streeeeeeetches along. A major downside to Christine is the dragging out of certain storylines, particularly the subplot with her mother. J. Smith-Cameron is fine in the role, and while their relationship may be based on a true story, it doesn’t make for an engaging presence onscreen. Their scenes are not nearly as interesting as Christine’s interplay with her co-workers. When it comes to biopics, it’s tricky to find that line of staying fair to the subject and realizing you’re also trying to entertain an audience. Campos isn’t wholly successful on this front.
There are a few scenes involving a gun dealer that don’t have to be there, either. Not only do they ham-fistedly telegraph the future, but they make a movie that’s too long even longer. Campos and writer Craig Shilowich could have shaped a more succinct story by paring down or removing these subplots, but as it stands, Christine works due its strong start and even stronger performance from Hall.
Whether or not you know what happened to Christine back in 1974 shouldn’t affect how you feel about this movie. The story itself is enough to warrant not one, but two movies about her story (see: Kate Plays Christine). In this iteration, Rebecca Hall’s presence is compelling throughout. A word like “riveting” gets tossed around a lot, but her performance is just that. Campos paints a picture of a journalist who tried to do good in life — promoting positive community pieces, volunteering at a local children’s hospital, etc. She worked hard. She was well-liked. She was loved by her mother. She was ultimately misunderstood. But that depression is an unrelenting beast.
The most heartbreaking moment in Christine arrives as she writes out a “to-do” list. On that paper, she writes: “Be bold. Be brave.” If only life was that simple for all of us, and most of all for Christine Chubbuck.