There were many movies I loved in 2016 – Green Room, Raw, The Witch. However, none were as experimental or ambitious as Robert Greene’s docu-drama Kate Plays Christine. Inspired by the true-life story of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida news reporter who in 1974 committed suicide live on air, the film sees Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards) prepare to play Chubbuck in a biopic. The actress interviews those who were close to the late reporter, scenes which are then interspersed with moments from the fictional movie.
Kate Plays Christine is both multi-layered and compact in the issues it explores e.g. the responsibilities of performers in depicting real-life incidents, media’s reliance on the “if it bleeds, it leads” principle and whether Chubbuck raised awareness in regards to “the blood and guts” sensationalism of news reporting (which she condemned moments before her suicide) or whether she became an example of it.
On top of this already intricate story, one could read the film as a psychological female-focused thriller a la Persona or the recent Queen of Earth (on which Greene worked as editor). As the film continues, Sheil discovers similarities between herself and Chubbuck. Each have been described as having masculine features. Both are noted as having an “unhealthy” craving for reaction – Sheil states with contempt “If one more person describes a performance of mine as ‘subtle’ – I’ll lose my mind”. As the actress continues to act and look more like her, it’s as if Chubbuck’s ghost possesses her, causing the film, at times, to resemble a horror-esque riff on Birdman.
It’s an absorbing documentary that finds its drama not just in Chubbuck’s sadness or Sheil’s attempt to replicate it, but in the boundaries that separate the two. It succeeds as both an introduction to the phenomenal Sheil (dubbed the Meryl Streep of mumblecore) and the fascinating Chubbuck and is perhaps the most thought-provoking film of recent memory. Stephen Porzio