Though director Robert Greene’s (Fake it So Real, Actress) latest experiment in line-blurring between fact and fiction is over-indulgent and doesn’t always add up to the mind-bending meditation on performance it clearly wants to be, a magnificent turn from Kate Lyn Sheil nevertheless carries the film over its less convincing patches.
For this documentary, Sheil is in the process of preparing to play Christine Chubbuck, a Florida TV news reporter who infamously shot herself on-air in 1974 (as also covered by another movie currently on the festival circuit, the terrific Christine). However, as she visits those who knew Chubbuck and attempts to get into character, she wrestles with the responsibility and mental anguish of playing a real-life person, especially a deceased one, and begins to question the dubious ethics of the film she’s taking part in.
Greene’s film is unquestionably at its best when disappearing that fine line between performance and reality, for while the seam never quite vanishes completely – the whiff of artifice is still somewhat apparent – Sheil does a fantastic job juggling the complexity of playing herself playing Chubbuck. It’s a deliriously multi-faceted high-wire act and one that provides plenty of insight into the emotionally draining potential of performance, something which perhaps isn’t outwardly apparent to cinemagoers as they throw back popcorn and Coke on a Friday night out at the cinema.
The investigative elements into Chubbuck’s life are less-assured only because they rake over a lot of things already publicly known, but by roping in a number of those who knew Christine (or who apparently did anyway, such is the nature of the doc’s reality-warping approach to truth), it has an uncommon, quite possibly uncomfortable level of intimacy and implied authenticity. If anyone wants to get into the mind-state of an actor, there’s little argument that this is probably the most effective – if also mentally taxing – means to do it.
Ultimately Kate Plays Christine doesn’t quite materialise into the masterful meta-documentary that its game cast and premise might suggest, but its overlong 112 minute run-time does allow Sheil to put on an absolute acting clinic, and if nothing else, the film will be remembered as a calling card for her talents.
Kate Plays Christine is in UK cinemas now