Christine is an ambitious 29-year-old news reporter, in Sarasota, FL, circa 1974. Relentlessly motivated to succeed, she knows she has talent, but being a driven career woman in the 1970s comes with its own challenges, especially when competition for a promotion, unrequited love for a coworker and a tumultuous home life lead to a dissolution of self. With ratings in the cellar, the station manager issues a mandate to deliver juicier and more exploitative stories, a story firmly at odds with Christine’s serious brand of issue-based journalism. To accomplish her goals, she must overcome her self-doubt and give the people what they want.
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Released: 14 Oct 2016
Runtime: 119 min
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Craig Shilowich
Actors: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia
Plot: The story of Christine Chubbuck, a 1970s TV reporter struggling with depression and professional frustrations as she tries to advance her career.
Country: UK, USA
Awards: 5 wins & 20 nominations.
Opening Weekend: $13,418 (USA) (14 October 2016)
Gross: $298,484 (USA) (6 January 2017)
The story of Christine Chubbuck, a 1970s TV reporter struggling with depression and professional frustrations as she tries to advance her career.
Let’s start with a truism.
Simple reviews are for simple films. This is not a simple film.
On the one hand, you have a drama based on a true story of a reporter in the 70s who had a nervous breakdown and ultimately self-destructed.
Films with “known” endings are always a challenge because, you have to ask, what is there to hold the attention of the viewer if you already know what happens? Here we have an answer: to hold the attention, we have Rebecca Hall’s best-ever performance of her already-solid career. Dressed down, no makeup, she not only disguises her natural beauty (clearly seen in other films she has starred in) but actually creates a character that simultaneously engages and horrifies the viewer at the same time.
Her portrayal of real-life reporter Christine Chubbuck is not unlike one of those “suspense” films about a time-bomb that needs to be defused before it explodes and takes an entire building with it. The manic energy Hall builds is a show-stopper and one cannot avoid the prediction that this performance will be noticed, and honored, down the road.
On an entirely different level, however, director Antonio Campos never misses an opportunity to paint this story against a broader canvas, a canvas that is as appropriate to the events of today — this review written on the eve of the Trump inauguration — as it was during the 70s, when incoming president Ford “pardoned” outgoing president Nixon.
Campos achieves this by clever edits and inserts, the selection of a specific sound bite here, the choice of a special movie Chubbuck watches by herself there (for example, Christine on her free time chooses to watch Carnival of Souls 1962, a film about a heroine who goes quietly insane because she is not sure about who she actually is.) The fact is that the news media is no better today than it was then, and likely much worse. Years ago, MAD MAGAZINE did a satire on the NYT’s motto “all the news that’s fit to print,” re-imagining it as “all the news that fits, we print.” An argument can be made that the west’s news services (90% of which are owned by only six corporations in 2017) are merely glorified ad agencies. At best, they are pushing endorphins. At worst (check out the 2016 scandal over the DNC) they are pushing ideas into people’s heads that are partial and biased.
If Ms. Chubbuck were alive today, one doubts if she would be any more pleased with the job she so desperately tried to perform.
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