31 Days, 31 Movies 12/23: I, Tonya
I don’t care for the Olympics. Every two years there is a month out of the year where all the good TV is put on hold for the sake of a bunch of sports I don’t care at all about. In a battle of superior jingoism of which I have less than no vested interest in. I root for the Netherlands and England in international football and NBA players in FIBA and that is the extent to which my patriotism goes. I especially do not like figure skating (or gymnastics which is just figure skating with less chance of concussion). The sport of it is extraordinarily impressive—I skated once on an ill-advised field trip at camp—and I fell flat on my ass two seconds in and I bailed. The fact that these men and women can things on the ice I couldn’t even do on a trampoline is incredible. It’s the pageantry of it that I detest the glittery skin-tight costumes and makeup has always made me uneasy. So, it should be of no real surprise that I’ve never really cared about the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan incident. Up until the trailer of this movie came out I wasn’t even sure which one of them had been attacked. But what I do care about is watching Margot Robbie, famous Australian, play one-time redneck American sweetheart, Tonya Harding. Also I fully intend to take this movie as fact without bothering to do any research of my own because while I am neither team Harding or team Kerrigan specifically I am definitely team Margot Robbie.
There seem to be three schools of thought on Margot Robbie thus far through her career: she is a bad actor who succeeds on her looks, those that believe she is a talented actor, and those that are unaware of her career past an hour and 18 minutes into The Wolf of Wall Street. Robbie wasn’t anything particularly special in The Wolf of Wall Street, Naomi Lapaglia isn’t a particularly special role though. Since then Robbie has delivered some great performances improving every film: I stand by Focus which is some of the better on-screen chemistry I’ve seen, Z for Zachariah is a fairly average movie that she is good in, and of course there is Suicide Squad which without Robbie and Smith is an unwatchable movie. And now there is I, Tonya, Robbie’s best performance to date as the seemingly misunderstood Tonya Harding. Harding’s story of struggling with poverty, abuse both from her mother (Allison Janney) and her husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and the undeniable drive to the greatest figure skater of all time. Robbie’s performance is sympathetic and funny and gives new life to a familiar story. Allison Janney impresses as usual adding an element of dry humor as Tonya’s monster of a mother, LoVona Harding.
For a movie ultimately about a woman suffering through abuse, I, Tonya is surprisingly funny. The goal of which is to get back some modicum of dignity for its subject. A woman whose legacy was wrongfully tarnished because of three of maybe the biggest idiots of all time and turned into a punchline for the better part of two decades. Steve Rogers is a screenwriter I’ve never thought much of, but he really outdid himself on this script. I had never seen much humor in many of his past scripts—or at least not much good humor—but I, Tonya succeeds at being both hysterically funny at times and very poignant and heartfelt. I have liked Craig Gillespie’s directing in the past, I actually think Fright Night is a low-key brilliantly made film but I I, Tonya he lets down his cast at times. For the most part the directing is pretty by the numbers, there are some cute touches with breaking the fourth wall and foreshadowing but the action sequences of the skating to tend to disappoint. But unlike in many sports movies the sports sequences don’t make or break the film.
Margot Robbie and Allison Janney give fantastic performances and propel a good script and a compelling subject into a great movie. The redemption project that is I, Tonya does its complicated subject justice and turns the story surrounding sports most infamous event into a funny and touching filled