One of the most tragic notes struck by Kate Plays Christine is the realisation that even though ‘70s reporter Christine Chubbuck killed herself on TV to make a statement, her life has been mostly forgotten. It’s appropriate then that not one but two films about her are due for release: the drama Christine, starring Rebecca Hall, and this film, a part-documentary, part-dramatic reconstruction.
Kate Plays Christine follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares for the role of Christine, documenting her research, her physical transformation and her personal connection to the character. It’s a fascinating insight into the modern “method acting” you hear discussed all the time, but rarely see. What’s disappointing is the lack of depth. Kate is an intelligent contributor, but she seems uncomfortable at taking such an intense role, particularly when her process itself is under scrutiny. The resulting air of anxiety chimes nicely with Christine’s life but fails to add much to our understanding of it.
This split in focus is a major problem, leaving director Robert Greene caught between an exploration of the creative and performative process, and an examination of Christine’s life. It means that key moments like an interview with two of Christine’s colleagues go under-exploited as Greene is trapped between showing Kate’s emotional response and the colleagues’ anecdotes. On many occasions, more coverage would be a simple solution.
Strung along by fitful insights, Kate Plays Christine is saved by a blistering conclusion where Kate struggles during the filming of the final suicide scene.
After two aborted takes, Kate launches into a Network-esque rant, announcing that she’s “trying to find an angle that makes her death worth more than her life, but there isn’t one”. If the rest of the film possessed this much clarity and force, it could have been something special.
CAST: Kate Lyn Sheil, Christine Chubbuck, Steven C. Bovio, Stephanie Coatney
DIRECTOR: Robert Greene
WRITER: Robert Greene
SYNOPSIS: Actress Kate Lyn Sheil prepares to portray the role of Christine Chubbuck, a real-life news reporter who killed herself on national television in 1974.