Saturday, December 9, 2017

Movie with Abe: I, Tonya

I, Tonya
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Released December 8, 2017

Athletes are known primarily for their skills in their chosen sport, and their personalities usually come second to how they do in front of audiences in stadiums or on TV. Scandals are most able to change that, thrusting the personal lives and alleged misdeeds of an athlete into the limelight and overshadowing their physical talents. Figure skater Tonya Harding is one person remembered much more for the lifetime ban she received from her sport than for her incredible abilities, and this new film aims to tell her complicated story from a personal angle.

Tonya (Margot Robbie) grows up in Portland, Oregon in the 1970s, introduced to professional figure skating at a very young age by her viciously cruel, results-driven mother LaVona (Allison Janney). Subjected to considerable physical and emotional abuse from both LaVona and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya pursues ambitious skating stunts and doesn’t try to conform to the image of perfection that competition and Olympic judges want to see. Her future is put in jeopardy when her main American rival, Nancy Kerrigan, has her knee bashed in, beginning a series of events that will come to define her entire career.

This film is introduced by a title card indicating that it is based on “irony free, wildly contradictory” interviews with Tonya, Jeff, LaVona and others. Those conversations are dramatized with the actors looking into the camera and interspersed with the linear narrative playing out on screen. While this story positions itself as a defense of Tonya’s life choices based on her upbringing and circumstances beyond her control, it’s hardly sympathetic to her or anyone else in its story, offering up unfiltered and often brutal portrayals of their character. The film’s mockumentary format also occasionally feels disjointed, jumping from scene to scene as if its interviewees have suddenly recalled something that seems more urgent than wherever the story already was, and the usage of direct camera address in non-interview segments also serves as an unwelcome interruption of the action.

Robbie’s performance is a completely immersive one, as she perfects Tonya’s facial expressions and tics to truly become her. Janney steals every single scene she’s in as LaVona, masterfully delivering unfiltered insults and expressing no remorse whatsoever for how she feels. Both are deserving likely first-time Oscar contenders, and these portrayals are indeed strong. Though the film manages to be as interesting and engaging as its characters, energetically recreating its most stirring skating scenes, its narrative structure isn’t quite as smooth, but this remarkably wild story is more than interesting enough all on its own.


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