Rebecca Hall steps into the shoes of real-life news reporter Christine Chubbuck for this 2016 adaptation that finally gets its UK release. Lee reviews Christine.
Perhaps in the future, we can look back at films like Christine and chuckle at their attempts to understand depression, for it will already be understood. We’ll have pinned down exactly the biological processes, the shared experiences, the genetic elements to such a point that films speculating over their origin, cause and aggravation will seem as much a piece of their time as those that tried to get to the root of the female hysteria or post-traumatic stress.
At present, however, we know enough about depression to generally suspect what does and does not develop the condition in someone who already has it, and Christine, a biopic character study of infamous news reporter Christine Chubbuck, throws enough conflicting experiences and stress-laden scenarios at the wall to spell out “downward spiral” loud and clear.
A screenplay that covers most of the bases and then some; disorderly family life, stressful job, no love life or company, upbringing at odds with our ambitions, inability to communicate and an underlying previous experience that needs to be overcome and proven fluke; it’s all there, and that much of it signals towards perhaps other underlying conditions is no accident. The chaos can feel overwhelming, and that’s perhaps the point, but slick direction from Antonio Campos and a meticulously crafted performance from Rebecca Hall keep the ship on course.
The film’s bravery in never acknowledging within the main narrative its roots as a biopic should also be commended, never taking advantage of the real world tragedy and never boldly claiming to have insight into a person we simply don’t have this amount of insight into. Characters are balanced and relatively supportable, the working politics of the 70s make for an occasionally humorous backdrop and the constant focus on Christine, never letting her slip into the background of other characters and their scenes, keeps the narrative focussed, except when it’s not.
There are issues in the length of the edit; this is a film that does take its time, and that is important to an extent, but subplots noticeably drag, to a point where their impact on Christine feel dampened. When there are so many separate character stories going on, from the anchor to the best friend to the mother to the boss to the weather man to the exec to the sick kids and so on, it feels understandable that much of their place in Christine’s story will feel like background noise, but did we need so much background noise?
Arcs can take a long time to pay off, such as the will-he-won’t-he anchor story or the mounting pressure from the boss, and all the while we’re contesting with arguably unnecessary turns such as the potential stress-related surgical story or the recurring, incredibly on-the-nose sock puppets who function less as muses and more as thematic exposition for dummies.
The film also doesn’t know how to end and passes by three or four decent points of closure before settling on, arguably, the weakest and least interesting of them. Was the point depression is contagious? It sure felt like it was, which is a shame for a final note.
That’s not to deminish the fact that this is a story that deals with depression in an age where depression was undealable with, and as a reflective story on how far we’ve come in terms of understanding, and how far we’ve yet to go, it does more than an admirable job as a cautionary tale.
Christine isn’t the tightest or most insightful take on depression in cinema, perhaps missing a final hack at the screenplay before shooting, but it is still a solidly told take on a fascinating person, and it does more than a commendable job with the material given. An easy, if sombre, recommendation that will very much stick with you (if you stick with the runtime).