I, Tonya (2017)

Cast includes: Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), Sebastian Stan (Captain America [series]), Allison Janney (The West Wing), Julianne Nicholson (August: Osage County), Paul Walter Hauser (Kingdom), Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine)
Director: Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours)
Genre: Drama | Biography (120 minutes)


Huffington Post

“Tonya was my fifth child from husband #4,” says LaVona… with a parrot on her shoulder, smoking while on oxygen. “I drove her everywhere.” In another interview, Martin Maddox of Hard Copy tells us, “Jeff Gillooly was the most hated man in America… his name was a verb.” “I’m a real person,” says Tonya, being interviewed in her kitchen. “I never apologized for growing up poor and being a redneck.” Forty years ago in Portland, Oregon, we see LaVona bringing 3-year-old Tonya to the ice rink, wanting Diane to be her teacher. Diane only teaches advanced students, so LaVona sends Tonya out on the ice to show what she can do. By age 4, Tonya has won her first competition against teenagers. “Are you even trying?” LaVona yells at Tonya… “Because there are other places I’d like to be.” LaVona confesses to hitting Tonya with a hairbrush, but she says it was only to inspire the child. In competition, Tonya always seems to lose points for not being “prissy.” “She can do a fucking triple,” yells LaVona. It’s true that Tonya is a remarkable skater, but she never seems to get her full due from judges.

Jeff Gillooly is the first boy Tonya ever dated. She met him hanging out at the skating rink, where she was practicing. On their first date, LaVona comes along… asking Jeff, “Are you a gardener or a flower?” That’s how LaVona divides people… some people do all the work, while some get all the glory. She explains that Tonya doesn’t lift a finger for anyone. Oddly, that’s not what we’ve been seeing… Tonya chops wood, she hunts, she works, she practices 6 hours a day… she even sews her own costumes. In fact that’s part of Tonya’s problem… tacky costumes… plus bad perms, blue nail polish and heavy metal songs for her routines. Anyway, Jeff looks like Prince Charming, compared to Tonya’s mom. Later on, when Jeff beats her, she forgives him… “He always says he’s sorry.” Mom never says she’s sorry. “You’re a dumb piece of shit who deserves to get hit,” says LaVona. In competition, Tonya’s triple axil means the skating world has to take her seriously. “I knew I was the best skater in the world,” says Tonya. Still, judges don’t like Tonya. They favor skaters with a good backstory and good families. Tonya has neither, especially now that she has a restraining order against Jeff. With her Olympics dream in sight, maybe it would help if she tries to mend fences with Jeff… which also means a truce with Jeff’s best friend, Shawn, who insists on being Tonya’s bodyguard.

Of course, the central issue in Tonya’s story is “the incident.” To understand it, we need to consider all the different characters and moving parts. Trying to reconcile with Jeff turned out to be a big mistake. Martin Maddox of Hard Copy puts things in perspective this way: “We’re talking about real boobs, in a storm of only boobs.” We know from history that the incident seemed almost surreal at the time. The movie explores the events, motivations, mistakes and regrets. It’s an excellent narrative with an excellent cast. We see things from multiple perspectives. The film borrows from documentary style filmmaking, especially when characters turn to the camera and talk to us. Of course, the character we follow most closely is Tonya as she goes from being famous to infamous to a joke. The weirdness of the incident and the events that followed made everyone look bad. Yet, some paid a bigger price than others. Tonya tells us she never had a chance in life. Maybe you’ll agree once you see the movie. Maybe you won’t. But it’s hard to deny that Tonya’s miserable upbringing put her on a path without good options. Her mom doesn’t have much sympathy though, saying to Tonya… “Poor fucking you! I made you a champion, knowing you’d hate me for it.”

popcorn rating

3 popped kernels

The story behind the “Tonya Harding incident”

Popcorn Profile

Rated: R (Language, Violence)
Audience: Young Adults
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Wide Release 
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Tonya Harding’s story
Language: Rude & Crude

Social Significance: Informative & Thought Provoking

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