It was a strange coincidence this past Sundance when two movies about the same subject – Christine Chubbuck – played in competition. Christine, the other movie, is a conventional biopic, one that I found to be the best movie I’ve seen so far this year; this take on Christine Chubbuck is a documentary approach. Kind of.
Kate Plays Christine centers around Kate Lynn Sheil preparing for the role of Christine Chubbuck in a low-budget biopic. We follow her through the preparation period, which consists of research, getting a tan, getting fitted for a wig, calling Chubbuck’s former news station in order to gain access to archive footage of Christine, and interviews with locals from Sarasota Florida about Christine. This all is interspersed with footage from this biopic in-the-making.
This is where the film’s premise is going to confuse an average viewer, this biopic that’s being filmed isn’t actually “real”. There is no movie actually being made within this ‘documentary’ to be seen, though what little is seen, looks terrible.
Kate Lynn Sheil also, I was surprised, by how bad her performance is in these scenes. Yet, as I continued to watch the movie, I began to realize, that was the point.
In Christine, we see Rebecca Hall’s take on Chubbuck as someone who wants to be a reporter in a bigger market, but her actual aptitude for being a reporter, as portrayed by Hall, leaves you wondering why she chose this particular field in the first place. A co-worker of Christine’s even says, before presenting rare footage of the actual Christine Chubbuck giving an interview, ‘she wasn’t the greatest interviewer’, which leads me to believe that Kate Lyn Sheil is playing this part badly on purpose to imitate Christine Chubbuck’s failure to be a reporter the way that she wanted to be. The “movie” within the documentary is bad as a statement that a biopic about someone truly unknowable, like Christine Chubbuck, shouldn’t be made.
Though the execution of this concept isn’t perfect, it has enough to admire within it to give it a watch. Though I disagree with the statement that’s most likely being made about Christine, and even to some extent, itself, I respect why the filmmakers would take that stance.
Robert Greene and Kate Lyn Sheil are the reasons this movie works, with a lesser director and actress, this could’ve easily been a complete disaster, but somehow, this tricky material finds its way.
Note: If you have the opportunity, I would recommend watching this and Christine together.