I, Tonya (2017)

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Movies can be said to fall into one of two categories; those you will see again, and those you won’t.  Based on real life controversy involving US figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan,  I, Tonya tells the story of a gutsy, gritty young girl who lived to skate and had nothing else.  Certainly nothing resembling a family structure that was even remotely functional.  The movie will hold special fascination for fans of the sport, especially those old enough to have memories of what happened then.   However, viewers of any age, skating fans or not, will enjoy this film – it’s so well done.
The “mockumentary” style is tricky, I believe, and carries risk of the project taking on “reality TV” overtones.    Here, the characters are deftly presented at the beginning with the quickest of brush strokes and the story is off and running.  You need only to see the actors and hear them speak for a few seconds and the stage is set.  There’s Tonya, her mother LaVona, (Best Supporting Actress Allison Janney) her ex-husband Jeff Gilooly, and his caricature of a sidekick, Sean.  Bobby Cannavale plays a hard-bitten reporter type from “Hard Copy” and Julianne Nicholson plays Tonya’s coach, gentle yet with steel in the spine.  Actor Sebastian Stan, who played Jeff, probably should have been nominated for something as he brought life and dimension to an unlikeable character in a way I’d have never dreamed possible.  Then again, this entire movie is a study in exquisite nuance.
Tonya overcomes the very significant obstacles from her station in life to become a skating powerhouse, athletic and skilled, in fact the first woman in the US to land the Triple Axel jump in competition.  I’m glossing over the heartbreaking childhood and first foray on the ice because I can’t easily summarize what is depicted onscreen. This remarkable, and for the viewer, enjoyable progression eventually starts to unravel as Tonya’s achievements are eclipsed by  a media nightmare.
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The story is familiar to many, Tonya’s career eventually disintegrated, and Kerrigan won the Silver medal in the Olympics.
Production quality in this movie is superb.  The characters break the 4th wall, which can be discordant if not done well; here it’s spooned in so smoothly both as resolution and segue, that the movie progression is nicely enhanced.  The soundtrack use in the film is a slam dunk, (there isn’t a skating term I can think of that captures how skillfully the music tracks were woven in).  Tracks were chosen for the lyrics and melody, and thus were only loosely representative of the time period being covered.  Sometimes the music was used for literal reasons and sometimes for irony, with the result as a viewer/listener you are pulled in different directions.
Probably better than half of the Best Picture nominees, with a good case to be made for production design, cinematography and direction.  Easily Best Actress for Margot Robbie and Supporting for Allison Janney.  Yes, I know Robbie didn’t win the Oscar but she should have.  Her brash appeal in this film is based on a skillful portrayal that hints, somehow, at the magic of screen legend Michelle Pfeiffer, combining porcelain beauty with a gift of physicality and timing.
I sat there, numb, in the theater as credits rolled, and all I could think of  is when I would be able to watch this movie again. RB score is a solid 10/10.

Table 19 (2017)

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RB score:  9/10

The bride allocated the “randoms” to Table 19, the table farthest in the back of the room, even farther away from the action than the kids’ table.  The cast of this movie is even more random, with Anna Kendrick playing Eloise; the rejected girlfriend of the best man and brother of the bride; Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow as a married couple who manage a diner, bored with life and each other;  June Squibb as the elderly former nanny of the bride and her brother; Stephen Merchant as a glib but somewhat fragile former prison inmate, now struggling to fit into society somehow, and Tony Revolo as a lonely teenager trying to meet girls while having his mother control every facet of his life, and call his phone continually to offer advice.

At first, the interactions among the people seated at Table 19, both among themselves and with others, are predictably, and amusingly, awkward, then the movie takes a screwball turn as Eloise has a messy confrontation with her ex, Teddy (played by Wyatt Russell).  Eloise convinces us, herself, and eventually her tablemates that she doesn’t care anything for Teddy, and from what we see of him we don’t know what she saw in him to begin with.  Then Eloise, who has been spending more time away from Table 19 then sitting there, has a chance encounter with a very handsome stranger which turns into conversation which turns into a turn around the dance floor.  Jo, the nanny, picks up on the magic between Eloise and the strange man, and also is the only person at the table to observe that Eloise rushed from the table sick because she is pregnant.

Here is where the skill of the screenplay and the cast really start to take off.  You had to wonder at the beginning of the movie what would be involved with a cast of such experienced comedic actors such as Kudrow, Merchant and Robinson.  Only comedic actors know how to walk the tightrope between comedy and emotional connection, that is required for the ensemble to form a believeable bond during the day of the wedding… which they do.  When the others at the table learn that Teddy dumped Elaine when she told him she was pregnant, they stage their own confrontation with Teddy, who, as it turns out, tells a different version of the breakup.  There is no reconciliation during this scene, although there is mayhem and a ruined wedding cake.  The five tablemates look very gloomy as they leave the reception area of the hotel and ride the elevator back to their rooms.   While the movie’s threads also seem to unravel in a random fashion, at first, and new and odd revelations start to surface about each of them, these random threads become that connection that gives way to respect and compassion for each other, and an emotional investment for the viewer.  

To give more plot points is to give away too much and spoil for the viewer, the satisfaction of watching the progression as it unfolds.  I can’t think of another movie that better captures the risks and joys of simply living life, of how other people are always someone more than how we perceive them, whether we’ve known them for minutes or years, and how we often have to make glaring mistakes, even repeated mistakes, and definitely a mess or two, in pursuit of our lives.   Underneath the comedy and the emotions, the movie brings home how inaccurate perceptions of the past influence one’s state of mind more than any actual events or people do.  

You’ll never show up at a wedding reception with quite the same frame of mind ever again.  9/10, maybe 9.5/10.  Deduction is for making the teen boy character overly one dimensional.  Still a great film, and one which will merit many re-viewings.