MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Margot Robbie, Allison Janney.
While older adults will remember the scandal of the 1994 U. S. Figure Skating Championship when skater Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) was injured in an attack eventually connected with skater Tonya Harding (Robbie) and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), these events will be news to a younger audience who will be seeing them unfold onscreen in I, Tonya. In many ways the planning and execution of this attack was so unexpected and bonkers, you just couldn’t make this stuff up.
Except, of course, when you would make stuff up. I, Tonya admits right at the start that it is going to be presenting this story from a number of different viewpoints (“based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly,”), which just happen to not quite line up with one another. To begin with, Tonya’s remembrances differs from Jeff’s, including incidents from their on-again, off-again combative marriage. We also hear from LaVona Golden (Janney), Tanya’s mother; Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), her skating coach; and Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), Harding’s bodyguard and accomplice with Gillooly. With such a roster of unreliable narrators, it’s hard to know what is really true.
The film wants us to sympathize with Tonya, a gifted skater with a signature move – the triple axel jump – who wasn’t exactly what the competitive skating was looking for. Harding grew up working poor in Portland, Oregon. Her skating costumes were homemade and her makeup seemed overdone and tacky. She consistently got marked down for “presentation”. Nancy Kerrigan projected an All-American Girl image that the judges responded to more favorably.
I, Tonya wants us to identify with Harding’s disadvantages, but the film’s script by Steve Rogers chooses to overlook Kerrigan’s similar background. (Nancy’s father was a welder who worked three jobs in order to pay for her skating career.) To its credit, the film presents a sympathetic portrait of Harding as a strong-willed woman who overcame abusive relationships with her mother and a former husband.
After dismissing any possibility of truth-telling, I, Tonya is nevertheless a fast-paced and entertaining movie, buoyed by great performances by Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan, and Paul Walter Hauser (one of my favorite comedic roles of 2017).There is a major stumble toward the end of the film when Harding breaks through the fourth wall and accuses the theater audience for having fun at her expense. This, of course, is in the script of a movie that is having fun at her expense. Obviously, I Tonya is not as irony-free as its opening disclaimer states. When you can’t trust disclaimers, who can you trust? When a film promises so much alternative truth, how can you be bothered> Nancy Kerrigan has resisted commenting about this film. There she goes again – what a class act!
Three halos: A famous sports scandal turned into a sympathetic dark comedy.
Three pitchforks: Much swearing throughout; scenes of domestic abuse; non-graphic sex scene.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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