Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review of I. TONYA: Sleaze on Skates

February 5, 2018

Tonya Harding was a very familiar name in figure skating back in the 1990s. In a sport where the athletes were usually sweet and elegant, Harding came across as brusque and rough. Her rivalry with Nancy Kerrigan was inescapable in the news, especially when her name was implicated on an actual physical assault on Kerrigan. Because this dealt with a relatively recent tabloid-fare sports scandal, this film should be interesting to watch. The three Oscar nominations it earned gave it an extra push up. 

The film tells the story of how Tonya Harding began her ice skating career as a child of four being pressed by her abusive mother LaVona Golden to train under coach Diane Rawlinson. As she grew up, her excellent powerful skating skills were recognized in nationwide competitions, but her "white trash" demeanor made her unpopular with the judges and fans. 

As a teen, she married Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) 3 years her senior, also socially backward, with a streak of violence. Despite being the first female figure skater to stick two triple axels in competition, Tonya's Olympic skating career was inconsistent. This led Gillooly to seek out more "innovative" ways to spook her closest competition, Nancy Kerrigan, but as the world now knew, things go out of hand. 

Since I have only seen Tonya Harding on the ice and on the news, I am not sure how accurate Margo Robbie's portrayal of her was. It felt like a caricature, but very well done, done with tongue securely in cheek. It was a fierce transformative performance, obviously totally out of Robbie's comfort zone, yet so convincingly done, both on at home and on the ice. She had the unenviable task of trying to make the audience take her side despite her character's uncouth personality and unpopular reputation, and she succeeds. Hers was an surprise Oscar Best Actress nomination, but this was fully deserved.

Alison Janney delivered a most unnerving portrayal of LaVona Golden, Tonya's foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, slave-driving mother from hell. She pushed her daughter to athletic perfection by fair means or foul, just like J.K. Simmons' Terence Fletcher character from "Whiplash" (2014), which incidentally won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year. Janney was so memorably hateful as LaVona, from her first scene to her last. She had already won the Golden Globe and the SAG in that category, she is the frontrunner in the Oscar race for Supporting Actress and rightly so.

The film as directed by Craig Gillespie presented Tonya's story by way of a documentary style where characters were telling their stories in their own words. The storytelling went back and forth in time with the characters occasionally breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly. The skating scenes were integrated very well with the story, all done with suspense and thrill. The editing by Tatiana Riegel was remarkable for its smooth execution, winning the Editors Guild award for Comedy, as well as an Oscar nomination. 

"I, Tonya" shows us what happens to someone without class in a sport that demands class. It tells us that Tonya's social class should not have mattered in her sport, only her athletic excellence. In this regard, the film's exaggerated comical portrayal of the so-called "white trash" social stratum can sometimes feel ironic. Because of its over-the-top approach to the story, one can also never be too sure of its historical accuracy as a biopic. Anyhow, as a whole, this movie is an eye-opening and entertaining peek inside the supposedly graceful world of ice skating through the troubled life of one of its least graceful personalities. 8/10. 

No comments:

Post a Comment