DIR:Craig Gillespie • WRI: Steven Rogers • PRO: Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Steven Rogers, Michael Sledd, Bryan Unkeless • DOP: Nicolas Karakatsanis • ED: Tatiana S. Riegel • MUS: Peter Nashel• DES: Jade Healy • CAST: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan
This is the best movie of the year, yes I said it, I’m coming hot out of the gate here. It’s funny, compelling, and there are so many things in this movie that reasonate so deeply as true, that I can’t possibly cover them all, so I’ll do my best to hit the main points.
I, Tonya is a story covering the rise and fall of Tonya Harding, a former American figure skater, who first gained prominence due to her immense skating talent, and gained global notoriety for a single, shocking act of violence –an attack, in January 1994, on a rival American figure-skater, Nancy Kerrigan, that was orchestrated by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. Gillooly’s notion had been to hospitalise Kerrigan and so further Harding’s sporting chances.
This is a movie about human violence, both physical and emotional, and rarely have I seen a movie capture so brillantly the cause and effect of human behaviour. There isn’t one action from the movie’s protagonist that doesn’t add up, and that isn’t contextualised by her childhood and particularly her relationship with her mother. Tonya Harding is a young girl blessed with a God-given ability, but cursed with an upbringing that leaves her very poorly equipped to take advantage of such a talent.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he investigates why those with the most intellectual or natural talent quite often don’t achieve what their abilities promise them, and for the most part his conclusions come down to class, lower class children often aren’t exposed to the information and guidance to succeed in this world, and are instilled with distrust of authority, and without the proper skills to work well alongside others. This idea couldn’t be more clearly conveyed in this movie, where due to their backgrounds all the main characters suffer from emotional damage that has made it very difficult for them to move through this world successfully.
For example, Tonya’s drive for success is coming from a place of “fuck you”, a place of violence rather than love, which is a dysfunctional motivation that blows up in her face, again and again. Her relationship with her husband is also representative of her addiction to “fuck you”, which is clearly demonstrated in one very telling scene in the movie.
Sadly, Tonya is wholly incapable of getting out of her own way. It’s heart-breaking, because out there on the ice she was the purest representation of herself, she was free, she was beautiful, and expressive. It’s as soon as she got off the ice and returns back into her damaged mind, that all her struggles occur.
At many different times in the movie we see a now older slightly bitter Tonya, sucking on cigarettes with shades of McConaughey’s Rust Cole, saying how things she was clearly responsible for weren’t her fault, I smirked at the time, but after spending some time processing the whole movie I realise there’s truth in what she’s saying. It wasn’t her fault.
The director, Craig Gillaspie, armed with a truly cracking script by Steven Rogers, focuses on the elements of the story that matter most, the relationships, and how they contextualize the violent events that unfold. The character development, and story pace are greatly aided by straight-to-camera interviews with the present-day version of the characters, and routine breaking of the fourth wall. These to-camera interviews reveal contradicting accounts of events, pointedly portraying the postmodern idea of there being no objective truth, an idea summed up not so subtly at the end of the movie – “There’s no such thing as truth, it’s bullshit, everyone has their own truth, and life just does whatever the fuck it wants”.
The cast is utterly magnificent. Margot Robbie is transcendent in the lead role, and really announces herself as an actress of real substance, and range. She doesn’t hit one false note in the whole movie, and evokes a huge amount of empathy for a character whose actions are often less than honorable. Alison Janney plays her mother, as an old battle-axe, in a performance that earned her a Golden Globe, and Paul Walter Hauser, an actor without a Wikipedia page gives an utterly hilarious performance as the best friend of Tonya’s husband, and yes that’s an element of the movie I’ve given short shrift to here, it’s absolutely hilarious. It’s an all-round killer. Watch it.
15A (See IFCO for details)
I Tonya is released 23rd February 2018