Monday, January 22, 2018

I, Tonya

Directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers, I, Tonya is the story of the figure skater Tonya Harding and the notoriety she gained when she had supposedly planned the attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 before its Winter Olympics. The film is an unconventional bio-pic of sorts that explores Harding’s troubled life as well as her tumultuous relationship with her mother and husband as Margot Robbie plays Harding. Also starring Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, Caitlin Carver, Bobby Cannavale, and Allison Janney. I, Tonya is a witty and entertaining film from Craig Gillespie.

In 1994, the world of figure skating went upside down when figure skater Nancy Kerrigan had been attacked just a month before the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway was to happen. News then emerged that a rival skater in Tonya Harding was involved in the attack because of her ex-husband who conspired with a friend to hire two men to put a hit on her yet Harding would deny her involvement that unfortunately lead to the end of her figure skating career. The film is about Harding as it’s told in a documentary-style of sorts set nearly 20 years after the incident where Harding, her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), former coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) and her mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) give their take on what happened and about Harding from her desire to be a figure skating champion to later becoming a woman of great notoriety.

Steven Rogers’ screenplay takes a back-and-forth narrative of various characters reflecting on the events in Harding’s life including Harding herself as well as moments that played into the many different versions of the truth. Notably in a moment where Harding and Gillooly have their marital problems where Harding tries to shoot Gillooly with a shotgun but Harding said “that didn’t happen” to the camera yet Gillooly disputes that. Yet, the story is all about Tonya as she was someone who had to endure the physical and verbal abuse of her mother as a child and later as a teen and an adult while having to create her costumes herself with the little money she makes as an adult. For all of her skills and being the first American skater to complete the triple axel that would give her a victory at Nationals in 1991. Many in the world of figure skating feel that she doesn’t have the look nor the typical background that she needs to be the poster girl for figure skating which is something she would battle during the course of the film. Even as she would have to endure the scrutiny she would receive in her supposed involvement over the Kerrigan attack.

Craig Gillespie’s direction does bear elements of style yet much of the compositions are straightforward in its mixture of documentary and dramatic recreation. Shot on various locations in and around Atlanta, GA as well as parts of Macon, GA as Portland and bits of Detroit, Gillespie captures a period in time before the era of 24-hours news and rampant media coverage that was to become prevalent during the 1990s. While there are some wide shots of the location including some of the skating scenes that are shown to get a scope of how big figure skating was in the early 1990s. Much of Gillespie’s direction rely on close-ups and medium shots to play into the dramatic events in Harding’s life with elements of dark humor as it relate to these moments where the fourth wall is broken. While much of the film is shot in a 2:39:1 aspect ratio, the documentary interviews are shot in the 1:33:1 full-frame aspect ratio as it play into the characters that include a TV producer in Martin Maddox (Bobby Cannavale) talking about the Kerrigan attack.

It all play into the events and versions of what had happened with Harding knowing that her story and her denials over what happened won’t be heard by anyone. There is some truth to what she would say as it adds to the notoriety that she’s unfortunately gained as it relates to what the public wants and what figure skating wants. At the end of the day, all Harding wanted to do was skate as there is an element of heartbreak as it relates to Harding’s fate but there is that comfort to the fact that amidst all of the abuse from her mother and her ex-husband and all of the bullshit that she had to endured. All she wanted was to be loved as there was that brief moment where America did love her. Overall, Gillespie creates a compelling yet exhilarating film about a figure skater and the notoriety she gained over the assault of rival competitor.

Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis does excellent work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of low-key lighting for some of the scenes at night including the fantasy of Harding killing Kerrigan as well the usage of grainy film stock and video for some of the documentary footage. Editor Tatiana S. Riegel does brilliant work with the editing as it play into some of the film’s humor with its rhythmic cuts as well as some montage-style editing for some of the training sequences. Production designer Jade Healy, with set decorator Adam Willis and art director Andi Crumbley, does fantastic work with the look of the interiors of the homes Harding had lived in as well as the look of the skating rink where Harding learned her craft. Costume designer Jennifer Johnson does nice work with the costumes as it play into the period of the late 80s/early 90s as well as the dresses that figure skaters had to wear for competition.

Hair designer Adruitha Lee and prosthetic designer Vincent Van Dyke do terrific work with the look of the characters from the hairstyles Harding had as a teenager and as an adult as well as the look of LaVona. Special effects supervisors John S. Baker and Jeffrey D. Woodrel, with visual effects supervisor Jean-Marc Demmer, do amazing work with some of the visual effects in not just elements of set-dressing but also in the skating scenes for some of the big jumps that Harding makes. Sound editor Dave Paterson does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the skating performances as well as some of the domestic chaos that Harding endures. The film’s music by Peter Nashel is wonderful for orchestral bombast as well as some somber pieces to play into the drama while music supervisors Susan Jacobs and Jen Moss create a killer soundtrack that features a lot of the music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s from acts/artists like Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, Supertramp, En Vogue, Heart, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Dire Straits, Cliff Richard, Christopher Stills, Violent Femmes, Chicago, Bad Company, Laura Branigan, Mark Batson, and Doris Day with the Paul Weston Orchestra.

The casting by Lindsay Graham and Mary Vernieu is great as it feature some notable small roles from Dan Triandiflou as Diane’s lawyer husband Bob Rawlinson, Bojana Novakovic as one of Harding’s coaches during her early 90s time, Ricky Russert as the dim-witted hitman Shane Stant who would hit Kerrigan, Anthony Reynolds as the driver for Stant in Derrick Smith, Caitlin Carver as Nancy Kerrigan, and McKenna Grace as the young Tonya who loves to skate but still deals with the abuse of her mother. Paul Walter Hauser is superb as Gillooly’s idiot friend Shawn Eckhardt who does speak in interviews dated in the late 90s as someone who claims to do all of this shit involving espionage and such yet is a total moron as he thinks he does all of these things but ends up making things much worse.

Julianne Nicholson is fantastic as Diane Rawlinson as Harding’s coach from childhood till the late 80s early in her professional career who is aware of Harding’s gift and passion for skating as she would return for the 1994 Olympics to make sure things go right for her. Bobby Cannavale is excellent as Martin Maddox as former TV producer for the 90s tabloid show Hard Copy who talks about the whole Kerrigan incident as well as display that sleaziness that was emerging in the media that he admits to being a part of. Sebastian Stan is brilliant as Jeff Gillooly as Harding’s husband whom she falls for while in her teens as someone that is fascinated by Harding but is also frustrated by her leading to him beating her up at times where Stan brings a complexity to someone who is a screw-up but also a well-meaning person who loves Tonya but also despises her.

Allison Janney is phenomenal as Tonya’s mother LaVona as a woman that is also quite complex despite the fact that she’s a very awful person and a terrible mother. Yet, Janney’s performance is filled with a lot of dark humor as she is seen in interviews wearing an IV while smoking a cigarette, drinking alcohol, and having a parrot on her shoulder as there’s something about her that is just filled with cynicism as a way to drive her daughter to greatness but it comes with a fault as it’s really Janney in one of her best roles to date. Finally, there’s Margot Robbie in a spectacular performance as Tonya Harding in the way she brings in this sense of childlike desire to be loved but also someone with a real chip on her shoulder. Robbie has this sense of energy in the way she deals with her life but also a humility into someone that knows she doesn’t have much to offer as her only real escape from reality is on the skating rink. With the help of choreographer Sarah Kawahara and skating doubles Heidi Munger and Anna Malkova for the wide shots in the skating scenes. Robbie would showcase that energy and determination of a woman just wanting to be the best only to be blindsided by what her husband did as there is a sadness that Robbie displays as someone who just wanted to skate but also this sense of contentment into a woman that at least knew she was the best for a while as it is a crowning achievement for Robbie.

I, Tonya is a sensational film from Craig Gillespie that features top-notch performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. It’s a film that doesn’t play by the rules of the ideas of the bio-pic while displaying some ideas of what could be true and what could be false in this story that was part of something strange and surreal during that period of sensationalized media of the 1990s. It’s also a film that explores the life of a young woman who was part of that culture for all of the wrong reasons as it’s that part of notoriety that will be around her for all of her life. In the end, I, Tonya is a phenomenal film from Craig Gillespie.

Craig Gillespie Films: (Mr. Woodcock) – Lars and the Real Girl - (Fright Night (2011 film)) – (Million Dollar Arm) – (The Finest Hours) - I, Tonya

© thevoid99 2018


Anonymous said...

I love Janney in this. There are small moments of humanity that she brings to the character, who is undoubtedly a villain in this story yet also a victim to poverty and single-motherhood herself.
I loved the energy of the film and felt like they conveyed the athleticism really well. The camera work is fantastic, it really picks up the power and speed of being on the ice; it's much more thrilling to watch than figure skating normally is at home.

Brittani Burnham said...

I just saw my theater is opening this next week so I'm so excited to finally see it. Great review!

Chris said...

I agree it's well-acted, entertaining, and has a killer soundtrack. A tragic story, but I think the movie manages to reassess the events that took place, and humanize the characters.

thevoid99 said... conventional film would've done more to make her a monster but I'm glad they did more to humanize LaVona as someone to pity. There's bits about her that I'm saddened for but there was some truth about the ways of the world. It's true, "nice doesn't get you anything" which does carry some weight.

@Brittani-Thank you. I hope you enjoy seeing it.

@Chris-I saw a 30 for 30 documentary about Tonya Harding as I ended up sympathizing with her as I knew what the film was going to do but it didn't stop me from enjoying it. Plus, I still think Harding got a bum rap and that lifetime ban from figure skating was way too harsh.