Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenwriter: Steven Rogers
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/7/17
Opens: December 7, 2017
Poster 3375*5000 px
The sports movie of the year is not about boxing or wrestling, baseball or football; and the sport does not include men. The film is “I, Tonya,” well on its way toward gaining nominations and wins from scores of groups handing out end-year awards. What makes it tops? That’s because it combines some dramatic footage on ice ranks devoted to figure skating champions with a brilliant look at a socioeconomic class, parts of which have no problem insulting, hitting, bashing, even crippling those who stand in their way or who are defiant. In other words “the deplorables.” “I, Tonya” also takes on the themes of a psychological thriller, a crime story, one that involves Tonya Harding, a top-flight, Olympic-level figure skater who was banned from skating for life by a federal judge who found her guilty of interfering with a prosecution. (I didn’t think a judge had that authority, which I thought rested with boards such as that governing the Olympics, but there’s a lot I learned and possibly much that you too will come away with after seeing this exceptional drama.)
Australian director Craig Gillespie, whose principal movie before this one, “Lars and the Real Girl” (a delusional young man strikes up a relationships with a doll), focuses this time on a different kind of doll, one that is very much alive, passionate, planning and negotiating, an athlete who is not simply another muscular guy who gets interviewed on TV but whose entire life is a worthy subject for a drama. With some of the cast talking directly to the audience to fill us in on what’s going on, “I, Tonya” stars Margot Robbie as a 15-year-old right up to her 25th year: credit the wig people and makeup artists for converting a classy-looking actress as a hardscrabble, working-class woman who had in at least one instance is looked over by as a representative of her sport because she does not radiate a wholesome, family manner.
Not wholesome? Ask her mother, Allison Janney in a major supporting role as LaVona Golden, a cussing, cigarillo smoking, matriarch who might sometimes bash her daughter but who spends every dime of the money she earns as a coffee shop waitress on coaches for her daughter’s skating career. Not knowing any better, Tonya, eager to leave her mother’s nest, marries Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), whose mustache is the object of his mother-in-law’s guffaws, and who gives Tonya the violent treatment that she thinks she deserves. He is, however, interested in advancing his wife’s career—never mind that she at one point took out a protection order—to the extent that he plots with his friend and “bodyguard” Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) to break the knee of Tonya’s leading competitor, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). Bad move, one that not only fails to advance Tonya’s career but winds up with prison sentences for Gillooly and Eckhardt.
Watch the snappy skating scenes, though I’m not sure I know how they get to show Margot Robbie’s face close up and convince us that it is she, the actress, who is actually skating. A nice role as well for her coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) with a cameo for a hard copy producer, Bobby Cannavale, who from time to time lets us in on the progress of the story.
Rated R. 119 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-