KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE (2016) review
written by: Robert Greene
produced by: Douglas Tirola
directed by: Robert Greene
runtime: 112 min.
U.S. release date: January 24, 2016 (Sundance Film Festival), August 24, 2016 (limited) & December 9, 2016 thru December 15, 2016 (Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, IL), also avail. on iTunes
“You die two times. You die when you pass away and you die the last time somebody mentions your name.”
We like to praise directors who take risks, but typically that only comes when the risk pays off. There’s no point celebrating someone who was brave and/or stupid enough to try something different unless they somehow managed to pull it off. At least that seems to be the prevailing logic in our world. In an attempt to shirk that tradition, I am going to praise director Robert Greene for trying something with his latest film, “Kate Plays Christine.”
Greene is currently the master of the mumblecore pseudo-documentary, a sub genre within a sub genre he seems to have carved out for himself. With “Kate Plays Christine,” Greene and his lead actress, Kate Lyn Sheil, have attempted something ambitious but they operate with no clear endgame in sight, making it something of an exercise in endurance. The Christine that the titular Kate is playing is Christine Chubbuck, a newscaster who shot herself in the back of the head on live television in 1974.
With precious little information available about Chubbuck herself, Sheil and Greene set out to craft a portrait of a woman whose life spirals out of control. In the end, the lack of information about the actual Chubbuck allows her to become something of an empty vessel for this director and actress to imbue with their own psychological preoccupations. This is where the danger in this project comes in, because it too often puts the focus on Sheil rather than Chubbuck.
The problem with this approach is that it becomes this exercise in self-indulgence. The film seems to think that it’s on a quest for truth in art at a time when truth is in short supply, but in actuality it’s shirking the truth in favor of selling you a romanticized notion of what an actor goes through to prepare for a role. Like I said, it’s an interesting experiment, but hearing all this talk about truth in what is essentially a fake documentary is why I feel it just doesn’t gel as a film.
It’s hard not to at least appreciate what Greene and Sheil were going for. In a time where there’s a glut of biopics—not to mention “Christine” a competing film about Chubbuck starring Rebecca Hall – any attempt to tell a story in a way that’s unconventional is greatly appreciated. But being different isn’t an accomplishment in and of itself. As a filmmaker, you’ve got to offer the audience a concrete reason for doing things differently, and this film’s reason was ultimately a cop-out in my estimation.
Credit where credit is due, though, as “Kate Plays Christine” is unlike any film you’ve ever seen before. I only wish that statement were written as a positive endorsement rather than a depressingly realistic assessment of a film’s wasted potential.