January 21, 2018

I, Tonya (2017)

Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney

Before I even wade into the controversy (is there a nominated movie this year that doesn't have any??) of the movie itself, can we talk about Margot Robbie's physical transformation?? No offense to Tonya, but Margot is stunning and to see her here, you would not know it. I honestly had to Google a photo of Robbie mid-movie just to reassure myself that she is, in fact, beautiful in real life. It's not really Tonya's fault or that's she's ugly--the 80's was tough on almost everyone. Kids today will have no idea of the struggle through those awkward years. Now they have filters on their phones. It was a different world.

Ok, getting back to the movie. Ah, controversy. It wouldn't be awards season without it. A lot of people are up in arms about this movie somehow glorifying Tonya Harding. I don't see it. It definitely takes a very sympathetic look at her, but that is not the same as glorifying her. And while some may feel it's too soon to forgive her for her role in the Nancy Kerrigan "incident" (as they kept referring to it in the movie), I don't think you have to in order to enjoy this movie. It is just a movie, after all.

This movie, a biopic that centers a large portion on "the incident," is exactly the movie I criticized The Battle of the Sexes for not being. It not only gave a thorough backstory, culminating in the point we were all waiting for, but did so in a highly inventive way so as to show the varying accounts and viewpoints of what happened. The interviews cut throughout are completely wacky and knowing these people exist as they've been portrayed makes it even more amazing. The whole movie is somehow quirky--a term usually reserved for offbeat romances and lighthearted fare--while being completely serious.

And at the epicenter of it is the incredible performance by Margot Robbie. Beyond the physical transformation, Robbie manages to embody the attitude of Harding, which was her defining feature. To her, it wasn't just about skating; it was about the elitist world of figure skating and the Harding's unlikely triumph in it. Even as a kid, I understood the dichotomy between Harding's raw athleticism and Kerrigan's natural grace and how the sport favored the latter. I understood the unfairness of the system and while Harding was never my favorite skater to cheer for (hi, Kristi Yamaguchi!), I did always sense a rigged system and one in which a powerful skater that was not liked could not triumph. This movie manages to encapsulate all of that without painting Harding as a passive victim to it, which I think is doubly impressive because making a biopic while the subject is still alive means she has to sign off on your portrayal of her. 

So regardless of what you think of Tonya Harding, this movie is so well done it's worth watching. Oh, and the skating scenes are friggin seamless. Kudos to whoever spliced those. Seriously.

Final word: A new chapter for the most-remembered event of my childhood (I cared way more about this than OJ Simpson when I was a kid).

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