Review by Willard Manus

Rebecca Hall takes on the challenge of making us care about a depressed, doomed TV field reporter in CHRISTINE, the new movie written by Craig Shiloweth and directed by Antonio Campos. Based on a true story, the movie goes behind the scenes at WZRB in Sarasota, Florida, where Christine Chubbuck (Hall) is trying to save her job and sanity under the most trying of circumstances.

Christine is beset by personal and professional problems. She once reported for a major TV station in Boston, only to get fired when she suffered a nervous breakdown. Relocating to Sarasota was supposed to be a therapeutic move: a chance to live and heal in the sun, escape her high-pressure existence. Unfortunately, WZRB turned out to be an equally stressful place to work. Even a minor-league TV station had competition, was obliged to scratch and claw for ratings and sponsors.

The intense, idealistic Christine wanted to concentrate on “issue” stories such as ecology and politics, but her boss, Mike Nelson (Tracy Letts), had other ideas. “We’ve gotta focus on ‘juicier’ stories,” he tells her. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Christine tries to change his mind, but without much success. If she wants to keep her job, she will have to dumb down her approach, find more lurid stories with which to entice and titillate the public.

So Christine becomes the equivalent of a tabloid journalist, even going so far as to purchase a police scanner, enabling her to rush to crime and accident scenes, interview dazed, blood-splattered victims. It’s all pretty cheap and tawdry, and she pays a psychic price for it, becomes more and more unhappy and discontent. She also suffers from a painful gynecological problem, one that briefly fells her.

CHRISTINE is a character-driven movie, one that paints a bleakly realistic portrait of its heroine. She is not an easy person to like: a pinched, neurotic, 30-year-old virgin living with her mother in a small, crummy apartment. Credit must be paid, though, to film-makers for having had the courage to tackle her story, bring it to cinematic life. As we learn, Christine also had many admirable human qualities (such as putting on hand-puppet shows for young children). She was also a highly intelligent, sensitive person with a strong moral core.

Hall skillfully brings out Christine’s many different sides: the light and joyous as well as the dark and tormented. The movie pays tribute to this gifted but tragic person, a good woman done in by her own demons and by the sleazy TV news industry.