Despite the fact that Christine, from director Antonio Campos (Simon Killer) and first-time screenwriter Craig Shilowich, is based on a true story, it doesn’t seems to follow any of the traditional beats we’ve come to expect from such biopics. Because it spotlights a regional story with no familiar figures of significance, Christine doesn’t offer noted performers impersonating historic characters. Instead, Campos drops a few brief archival shots to set the scene. For the most part, this retelling of the story of local television news reported Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) unspools with a seemingly kitschy nod to the early 1970s period and a focus on dysfunction that appeals to contemporary sensibilities.
Chubbuck, as played by Hall, is a ball of working woman neuroses. She’s easily the brightest person in the room during the station meetings, much to the chagrin of her beleaguered boss (Tracy Letts), who desperately wants everyone to play ball as the station struggles to stay afloat. He doesn’t need a nagging thorn in his side, or in this case, a complaining voice in his ear, constantly arguing for stories that the ratings say no one cares about. He knows and appreciates that he’s slaving away in Sarasota, Florida and wishes Chubbuck would set her ambitions lower too.
But she frets over her onscreen tics, ignores the social cues among her peers – chief among them, George (Michael C. Hall), the lead anchor and subject of her unrequited crush – that might afford her some degree of acceptance. In every frame, Hall brings Chubbuck’s desperation to life, creating an escalating feeling akin to watching and waiting for the monster/killer to emerge in a horror film. By turns eerily haunting and psychologically discomforting, Christine counts down to a cataclysmic climax that plays out onscreen, in real time, as she presents nightly news viewers with a bloody story for the ages.
Christine is about a woman in crisis, at a time when society, was ill prepared for that. The film turns her very real plight into an exercise that lacks empathy, despite a complex performance that manages to bear much of the load and nearly succeeds by reminding us that Christine Chubbuck was somebody who shouldn’t be forgotten. (Opens Friday) (R) CityBeat grade: C+