IF YOU KNOW who Christine Chubbuck was, the prospect of watching an entire movie about her may fill you with dread. A Florida TV news reporter, Chubbuck killed herself during a live broadcast in 1974. She was 29. She had a history of depression, and the head of her TV station blamed her suicide on the fact that she was almost 30 and unmarried.
This is not the explanation given in Christine, which, in less careful hands, might have been a sexist, lifeless march toward death. Instead, Rebecca Hall delivers a humane, improbably funny performance as a highly competent woman trying to survive depression within a boys’ club where “if it bleeds, it leads” is the MO, and where her work—as a skilled interviewer who covers less sensational local news—is devalued. Chubbuck’s also a 29-year-old virgin facing potential infertility (OVARIAN CYSTS SUCK, YOU GUYS), and in our brave new Tina Fey world, that wouldn’t be a big deal. But in 1974, it belies an underlying sense of unease and isolation: The problem isn’t that Chubbuck is unmarried. It’s that she’s lonely.
Hall makes Chubbuck relatable, which should make watching Christine an inherently uncomfortable experience. But until Chubbuck’s suicide, and even after, Christine is an enjoyable, substantive film to watch. It doesn’t glorify her act, or minimize the pain that it caused for the people who cared about her. But neither does it turn her into a ghastly Mentally Ill Person we can all feel sorry for. Instead, she’s fundamentally relatable—because who doesn’t know a woman who’s the (uncredited) smartest person in the room? What journalist doesn’t feel a little sad when a kitten .gif gets more engagement than a thoroughly researched piece of reporting? And is it really so shameful to not want to be lonely?
Christine takes these questions as seriously as its subject, and to its credit, it doesn’t settle for easy answers.