I, Tonya (2017)

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.
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.

2 thoughts on “I, Tonya (2017)

  1. It’s excellent. I wasn’t a fan of this actress until this movie.
    Although there is only one Michelle, in Margot Robbie’s performance I saw glimmers of that connection that Michelle always had with audiences. The role would have been perfect for Michelle circa Baker Boys or Frankie and Johnny.

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