Directed by Robert Greene. Starring Kate Lyn Shiel, Marty Stonerock, Christine Chubbuck, Stephanie Coatney, Holland Hayes
THE PLOT: In 1974, local news reporter on a Florida TV station, Christine Chubbuck, committed suicide live on air. As actress Kate Lyn Shiel prepares to play Chubbuck for a film, a camera crew follows her and her attempts to understand Christine, her motivations, and just how she can get into such a dark and solitary character.
THE VERDICT: Christine Chubbuck was the first person to commit suicide on live TV – by shooting herself in the head – but until recently, it seemed that this 29 year old woman had faded into urban legend and a grisly story on the internet. Now, there are two films about Chubbuck on the way; ‘Kate Plays Christine’, and ‘Christine’, starring Rebecca Hall and Michael C. Hall, both of which premiered at Sundance earlier this year.
Rather than focusing on Christine Chubbuck herself – as details about the real woman, and people who knew her seem thin on the ground – Robert Greene’s film instead focuses on actress Kate Lyn Shiel trying to learn more about, and understand who Christine was, and what drove her to such desperate action. ‘Kate Plays Christine’ is as much an examination of acting, research and mental health as it is an examination of one woman’s life apart from her glorified and sensational suicide.
Kate Lyn Shiel does well as the centre point of the film. There are times when she looks a little odd while wearing her “Christine” wig and contact lenses, but as a person she comes off as thoughtful and warm, and as the film goes on, it is all too easy to see the impact that the role of Christine is having on her. As well as Shiel, Marty Stonerock, Holland Hayes and Stephanie Coatney play various characters in Christine’s life, and they all talk about how they are managing to relate to Christine through their own life experiences. As well as this, Shiel interviews people who may have encountered Christine, as well as gun shop staff, a historian and a mental health professional; all of whom try to help Kate understand her character more.
Robert Greene has made a fascinating, yet slightly baggy film. There is an interesting look at the craft of acting and what it takes for an actor to transform themselves into a character, as well as the level of research and time it takes to understand a character based on a real person. It is easy to see the impact this research has on Kate as she tries to understand the nature of suicide and suicidal people, and as she admits that she feels a sense of responsibility to Christine, her memory and what she was trying to achieve. The problems with the film arise as interviewees speculate as to why Christine Chubbuck took her own life in such a violent and public manner. The story that keeps coming up is one of a lonely woman desperate for love, but since Chubbuck didn’t leave a note behind or talk publicly about the nature of her depression, this is simply speculation. As well as this, the film is never sure whether it is the story of Kate or Christine, and the final moments of the film seem oddly scripted for a documentary, leaving it feeling muddled and messy.
In all, ‘Kate Plays Christine’ is more a film about the dedication of one actress as she tries to get into a role, than a film about a woman who many believe to be urban legend. Kate Lyn Shiel is infinitely watchable, but the message of the film, and what it is trying to achieve is muddled. Although there is a powerful heart in ‘Kate Plays Christine’, is gets lost as the film tries to be a recreation of suicide, as well as understanding what drives a young woman to take her own life.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Kate Plays Christine is a docudrama recounting the tragic events that led to a news reporter killing herself live on television. Except it’s taken from a different perspective – that of the actor playing her.

    In 1974, 29-year-old Christine Chubbock worked as a news reporter for Channel 40 in Sarasota, Florida. Working in a male-dominated industry, she became concerned at the increasing network war for ratings and ‘blood and guts’ stories. So, she decided to make a clear statement of how she felt by shooting herself during a story on attempted suicide. It shocked the nation, but has now largely been forgotten – possibly even dismissed as a urban legend. The story went on to partly inspire the film Network, with its ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore’ mantra. In the present day, House Of Cards actor Kate Lyn Sheil prepares to take on the role. She conducts lots of background research, from the gun shop where Christine purchased the weapon that ended her life, to interviews with Christine’s former work colleagues and current network executives. As Kate starts to disappear into her character, she finds herself conflicted about whether she should re-enact that fateful moment…

    Kate Plays Christine is an intriguing film to watch. It delves deep into the actor’s craft, analysing how an actor slips into a character in more than just the physical sense. Kate has to understand motivation and what drove Christine to such a breaking point. How much of the film is real and how much is acting is unclear. It’s worth stating that the film she’s starring in was never made. Instead, there’s a second film called Christine starring Rebecca Hall which dramatises the events (it has no release date here yet). So, are we watching an actor as she discovers what it means to take on the tragic life of a real person… or are we watching an actor become Christine Chubbock with all the doubt that brings? It’s a bit of both mixed in with re-enactments, which makes the film hard to second guess.

    Writer/director Robert Greene’s film has some flaws. Despite all the time spent on exploring the reasons why Christine Chubbock took her life, we really get to know very little about the woman herself. There are no interviews with family members or anyone who really knew her well. If anything, we learn more about Kate Lyn Sheil and her method of discovering a character. Christine’s suicide is still preserved on a decaying tape, but there’s only one copy and it’s out of reach. For some reason, Greene feels the need to re-enact the suicide at the end. It’s a touch tasteless. Some tact here would be welcome, even if he’s questioning why we’d want to watch it anyway. However, Kate Plays Christine is a probing dissection of the actor’s craft and has some important things to say about our media-obsessed world. Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler would be all over this story if it happened today. ***