8 March 2018 | bob-the-movie-man
Some Darwin award winners
Man, I personally found this one to be an exceedingly uncomfortable watch.
"I, Tonya" is cleverly filmed as a pseudo-documentary, featuring re-enactments of the real-life interviews of most of the participants in this true-life drama. I recently bitterly criticised some film critics for spoiling the story of Donald Crowhurst, the subject of the recent "The Mercy". But I was about to do exactly the same here, *assuming* that you all know the lurid tale of the rivalry between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan that led up to an 'event' in 1994 that shocked the world. And of course, many of you younger folk don't know: case in point my 26 year old son who I went to see this with, and who went into the story blissfully blind of the drama about to unfold. So I will try to keep this review spoiler-free.
Playing Tonya from a (not very credible!) 15 years old to her mid-20's is Margot Robbie ("The Wolf of Wall Street", "Suicide Squad") in what is a BAFTA and Oscar nominated performance. And for good reason: the performance is raw, visceral and disturbing in reflecting a victim who still thinks everything at heart is her own fault.
Also BAFTA and Oscar nominated is Allison Janney ("The Girl on the Train") as Tonya's obnoxious chain-smoking mother LaVona. Janney is truly terrifying as the mother who abuses her daughter both physically and mentally in a driven attempt to make her the best ice-skater in the world.
Victims seem to attract abusers, and Tonya is surrounded by people who are just plain bad for her: notably her husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan, "The Martian", "Captain America: Winter Soldier") and his slimy and pitifully self-deluded friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser). The end credits video footage of the real-life players show just how well these parts were cast.
Why so uncomfortable to watch? There is a significant degree of domestic abuse featured in the film, both in terms of LaVona on her child and Jeff on his wife. This is something I abhor in general, having been brought up to believe it is never EVER acceptable to lay a hand on a woman. To have these cowardly individuals sensationalised in the movie I found to be really upsetting. I strongly feel, for this reason alone, that the film should have had an 18 certificate. Violence in film should be related to the context as well as the severity. (Note that this is in stark contrast to my comments of recent BBFC decisions to make "Phantom Thread" and "Lady Bird" 15-certificates when I believe they should have been 12A).
The film is executed extremely well, with 4:3 framing for the staged interviews, and ice skating scenes that seamlessly cut between the professional clearly doing the stunts and Robbie (who must also be a half decent skater too). The soundtrack is nicely littered - "Guardians of the Galaxy" style - with classic hits of the early 90's.
To think that this story actually unfolded in this way is nothing short of astounding... but it did! There is an astonishing video clip here (#spoilers) of the run up to, and the immediate aftermath of, the Kerrigan incident. I came out of the film with a deep feeling of sadness for Harding (at least, as portrayed) and utter disgust that the villains of this piece could be a) so cruel and out of control and b) so utterly stupid. These are individuals who really should have been sterilised to stop them polluting the gene pool any further.
Written by Steven Rogers ("Stepmom") and directed by Australian Craig Gillespie, there is no doubting that this is a powerful film: played to an absolutely silent and gripped Saturday night cinema audience. And it has truly dynamite performances from Allison Janney and Margot Robbie. But be warned that you'll need a strong stomach to go and see it without being affected by it afterwards. It's a mental keeper.