‘I, Tonya’ skates into your heart

In Uncategorized on January 15, 2018 at 21:22

I tonya

In “I, Tonya”, Margo Robbie’s Tanya Harding calls us all out for being her Judas and Brutus. We are all her abusers, not just her mother, LaVona Golden, (Allison Janney) and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). After seeing the film, it’s hard to argue with that assessment. 

During the Tonya Harding skating and legal trials, the media, the judges and the public (though Harding had some hardcore supporters) lined up against the uncultured, unvarnished Harding. That’s how the film plays the public reaction to Harding, and that’s how I remember what I saw in the media at the time. 

The film plays as a reverse Rocky. It’s the underdog, but not one we admire. She is the white trash heroine, the one the establishment hates and roots against. And with Robbie’s performance guiding the story, it’s nearly impossible to root against her. 

Harding is played as vulgar, crude, brutal and determined. If she had been a male football player, a boxer, or hockey player, the public would have loved it. She could have been the Dick Butkus, the Mike Tyson or Claude Lemieux of figure skating. But the U.S. Figure Skating Association wanted their athletes to be princesses, Disney creations that played soft classical songs or ballads and not heavy metal music for their routines, not a brutal athletic champion. Girls are to be pretty, polite, cultured and delicate while performing a triple axel. 

Harding was aware she was not that, that her athleticism was her best chance. But according to the film, that is exactly what kept her from having a chance at an Olympic metal. From what I know of the case, that plays true.   

Robbie as Harding embodies the Tonya spirit, and the rest of the cast is excellent. The mixture of triumph combined with sadness on her face when she wins is astonishing. Robbie’s ability to appear gravely hurt, defiant and shocked in rapid succession is amazing. Paul Walter Hauser earns extra credit for adroitly playing the paranoid perpetrator Shawn, Harding’s ‘body guard.’

Kudos to the editors and the writers for seamlessly mixing post “incident” interviews, Tonya’s coming of age story, and various elements in the timeline. The shooting is very natural, combining mock interviews, historical footage, reenactments and live action. It doesn’t slip up. As far as the special effects go, they were fine. I only once felt I could see during one spin on the ice that it wasn’t Robbie. And I had to look hard to see even that. 

The song selection from the eighties to nineties is excellent. They didn’t just choose the biggest hits. They chose songs that worked with the feeling at the time of the film, and not necessarily the plot elements. Not one song failed to make sense, though some were more spot on then others. “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp brought home the loss and inevitable downfall of the skater and was the most touching entry. Not since Goodfellas have I heard such a good selection of well timed songs. 

The Oscar voters will judge ‘I, Tonya’ like Harding was judge: it’s too ugly for their awards. But don’t let that keep you from seeing the film, for like Harding, it’s dynamic, powerful and entertaining to watch. 

Rating: Pay Full Price
When I first heard someone was making this film about Tonya Harding, I thought, “how stupid.” It turns out I was the one who was stupid. 

Tex Shelters

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