Thursday, January 18, 2018

Movie Review: "I, Tonya" (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes

The life story of infamous Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding.

Many of us who were alive at the time are all too aware of the incident that made Tonya Harding a household name in the mid-1990's. But who is Tonya Harding beyond being the woman linked to the knee-capping of one of her fellow U.S. Olympic figure skating teammates? Is she the mastermind of a horrendous act, or did she just happen to surround herself with stupid people doing stupid things? Those are the questions explored in director Craig Gillespie's darkly comedic biopic "I, Tonya." The film is written by Steven Rogers, who has worked on films like "Hope Floats," "Stepmom," and "Kate & Leopold," so this screenplay seems to be new territory for him. The film stars Margot Robbie as two-time Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. Joining her are Sebastian Stan, who plays Harding's abusive first husband Jeff Gillooly, and Allison Janney, who plays her abusive mother LaVona Golden. As you can already plainly see, abuse played a big factor in Tonya's upbringing. More on that later. The film follows her from her early youth to her rise in the ranks as a figure skater, all the way through the Nancy Kerrigan scandal and its aftermath.

There are some tremendous performances in "I, Tonya." Margot Robbie is excellent as Harding and plays her as a hard-nosed, rough around the edges, redneck-type looking for respect in a sport that expects and demands prim and proper. Robbie captures the mannerisms and vocal cadence of Harding with the looks to mostly match. The costuming and makeup work in this film should really be getting more attention. Allison Janney is brilliant as LaVona and completely steals the spotlight whenever she's on screen. Her character may be a little one-note, but she hits that note beautifully. She is mean, nasty, seemingly unloving, a complete and total asshole. Speaking of assholes, Sebastian Stan is great as one of the stories biggest dirtbags, Jeff Gillooly, the abusive lover Tonya seemed addicted to for years. Finally, Paul Walter Hauser delivers a hilarious performance as Tonya's bodyguard Shawn, who is a little too stupid for his own good but talks a big game despite being a brute and a loser who literally lives in his mom's basement.

The "I, Tonya" screenplay allows the audience to learn a little bit more about Tonya Harding beyond the media sensation and spectacle of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. We learn about the struggles she endured in her life and how her eventual downfall came about post-attack. If you take what this film says as gospel, Tonya was not the mastermind of some grand assault and in fact, had no knowledge of an impending physical attack on her competitor. She simply surrounded herself with the dumbest, most moronic bulbs in the bunch like Jeff and his friend/her bodyguard Shawn. She may have contributed with words, but she was mostly a victim of circumstance, that the disorder, misery, and abuse she suffered growing up led to her eventually marrying an abuser. We assume the truth lies somewhere in between the lines. Some will not enjoy "I, Tonya" for the simple fact that they think she is not worthy of cinematic redemption or acclaim. Others will not like it because it is not a happy story. We found this movie to be quite funny, though darkly so and in the worst way possible. It highlights terrible people doing awful things for a bit of an uncomfortable laugh. By the time the film was over, we found ourselves sympathizing with Tonya Harding just a little bit. We started to wonder if her punishment truly fit the crime of guilt by association. There's no way around the fact that she was involved in terrible things, but this paints the story in a different light just a little bit. We enjoyed watching this film and think it's definitely worth checking out if it comes to a theater near you.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 89%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

No comments:

Post a Comment