Author Archives: Dana Lemaster

Film Review: I, Tonya

Film Review: I, Tonya

Even if you do not follow Olympic figure skating, chances are you have heard of Tonya Harding-and probably not much good. Craig Gillespie’s new film I, Tonya aims to set the record straight, or at least provide mitigating circumstances for her behavior. The result is a darkly comic film with real-life villains straight out of the Coen brothers. I, Tonya does not exonerate Harding, but it generates more sympathy for her than you might expect, largely due to a stellar performance by Margot Robbie in the title role.

Steven Rogers wrote the script, which features interviews with the people in Harding’s life. There is a focus on key figures, like Tonya’s elegant skating coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), her dimwitted husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan), her equally dimwitted and self-appointed “bodyguard” Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), and her vicious mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney, in a magnificent though creepy performance).

LaVona raises Tonya largely as a single mother, waitressing to pay for her child’s skating lessons. This is not the loving, selfless act it might appear; LaVona is ambitious on Tonya’s behalf, but she is also fiercely jealous of her talented daughter. She abuses Tonya physically and verbally while discouraging her from making friends. Gillespie and Rogers do not shrink from depicting the violence against Tonya, but they also include numerous scenes to show LaVona is an equal opportunity abuser.

The economic status of the Golden/Harding family is an undercurrent in the story. It is hard to watch the scenes where coach Diane asks LaVona to get a fur coat and promotional pictures for Tonya. LaVona’s cut-rate methods of obtaining them are both embarrassing for Tonya. This has the effect of further alienating Tonya from her classmates.

Eventually, Tonya does meet Jeff, who is the first man to say she is pretty. They marry and have a brief period of happiness before he starts abusing her. She leaves him but keeps trying to reconcile.

Tonya Harding grows up to be an incredibly athletic female skater, one of the few able to pull off a triple axel in competition. Unfortunately, ability means less to the figure skating establishment than “presentation”. The skating elites do not want a working class champion; they are looking for patrician skaters like Nancy Kerrigan. Despite her technical accomplishments, Tonya’s scores in competition tend to be lower than her rival’s.

The two skaters competed to be part of the 1994 Winter Olympics to be held in Lillehammer, Norway that February. January 1994 gives rise to a brutal and bizarre event that all interviewees call “the incident”. Shawn and Jeff hire a couple of men to stalk Nancy Kerrigan. One of them strikes Kerrigan in the knee after a training session. The idea is to “even the odds” in Tonya’s favor.

I, Tonya becomes a different film at this point, morphing into a seriocomic tale of botched crime that resembles lesser Coen Brothers or Martin McDonagh. Inept Momma’s boy Shawn and his two hired goons come off as caricatures of caricatures. After this funny but brief interlude, Gillespie goes back to the prior format to conclude the story. There is even the requisite “Where Are They Now?’ update at the end.

The subject matter is anything but subtle, so it should not come as a surprise that Gillespie attacks it head on. Nicolas Karakatsanis’ camerawork and Tatiana S. Riegel’s editing are nothing short of frenetic at times. Though the musical choices seem apt, sometimes they feel a little like audio underlining (“Goodbye Stranger” “Barracuda”).

But in the end, all that matters is whether the story and its subjects are adequately conveyed. I may not agree with all of Gillespie’s methods, but I have to acknowledge his end result. He has brought this tale to life, in all its tawdry glory.

Theme: Bumbling Crooks

Related Posts: Film Appreciation: To Die For  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-to-die-for/

Bumbling Crooks: List For Week Ending December 10, 2017  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/bumbling-crooks-list-for-week-ending-december-10-2017/

Film Appreciation: To Die For

Film Appreciation: To Die For

Gus Van Sant’s 1995 film adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel is equal parts dark comedy, noir, and media satire. The script by Buck Henry does an outstanding job of maintaining tone and tension. Acting throughout is spot-on, starting with a bravura performance by Nicole Kidman in the lead role. To Die For opens with gloomyContinue Reading

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, adapted from the novel by André Aciman, is a luminous film about sensual awakening and first love. It is, easily, one of the most stunningly beautiful films I have seen this year. Finely drawn performances by Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet insure that Call Me By Your NameContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: Maurice

Film Appreciation: Maurice

James Ivory’s 1987 film Maurice is a lovely, understated film about a gay man struggling to accept his sexuality while the world around him works equally hard to deny it. The story, an adaptation of the novel by E. M. Forster, is set in England just prior to World War I. As a character inContinue Reading

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh creates some of the most unlikeable characters you cannot stop watching. His debut film, In Bruges (2008), features a couple of hit men sent to a Belgium town after one of them bungles a job. Things get more complicated-and violent-from there as McDonagh explores themes of vengeance and redemption. The entertaining but derivativeContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: Fargo

Film Appreciation: Fargo

The Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996) is perhaps one of the most upbeat films you will ever see about a brutal kidnapping and murder. It takes an established cinematic format, the police procedural with elements of noir, and then moves us to a new place by adding dark comedy. Naturalistic settings and straightforward visual presentation almostContinue Reading

Crime + Dark Comedy: List For Week Ending November 26, 2017

Crime + Dark Comedy: List For Week Ending November 26, 2017

Our films this week combine crime with dark comedy. Films like this offer a unique take on law and order, typically through strong characterizations (Fargo, The Guard). They also tend to feature highly quotable dialogue (Pulp Fiction, Grosse Pointe Blank) and unforgettable visuals (can anyone forget Roger’s attempt to escape by riding a tractor inContinue Reading