In the rarefied realm of dueling biopics, Christine Chubbuck seems like an unexpected name to land alongside Truman Capote, Wyatt Earp, and Steve Jobs. A reporter for a local news station in Sarasota, she’s mostly famous — or infamous — for killing herself live on air three weeks before her 30th birthday.
Yet somehow her story is being told twice this year, more than four decades after her death: first in the headily meta documentary Kate Plays Christine, and now in director Antonio Campos’ stark, unsettling drama. Without context or preamble, his Christine (Rebecca Hall) appears in the frame, a woman thrumming with such fierce high-wire intensity that it’s almost comical to watch her attempt to deliver field reports on strawberry stands and county zoning laws — except, of course, that we know how terribly it will end.
Shot in the goldenrod-and-avocado palette of the ’70s and dabbed with incongruous soft-rock lullabies, the movie itself is both painfully intimate and strangely opaque on the subject of mental illness, taking us deep inside Christine’s disintegration even as it never quite figures out what it wants to say about it. Hall puts everything she can into the role — and Michael C. Hall shines as the dopey-sweet anchorman desperate to connect with her — but it’s hard to shake the whiff of exploitation that hangs over the retelling of a tragedy that Chubbuck’s own family vehemently wished not to see on screen. B