Wednesday, December 13, 2017
I, Tonya, like its titular antihero (played here with gusto by against-type Margot Robbie), is not about subtlety. But because of the deluge of dubious reports and the conflicting narratives of the participants, there is still something incoherent, difficult to grasp and wavering about “the incident"--a defining moment in early 90s American media culture. In Craig Gillespie’s film, any repetitive physical gruntwork that the sport of figure skating likely entails is swept aside for keenly-edited (by Tatiana S. Riegel) and actively photographed (by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis) moments, the most vehement of which, in the lives of Tonya Harding and her relationships with her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) and her ex-husband Jeff Gilloy (Sebastian Stan). The movie is set up as a mockumentary with various points of views and a lot of voice-over narration. It's pitched as a lighthearded--relishing in the characters' tackiness. As soon as we begin witnessing the physical abuse against Tonya, it becomes a sadder portrait. In fact we see how violence is just an intrinsic part of herself. In interviews and clips, I always found Tonya to be a clashing mix of both a deer-in-headlights and a feisty fighter. Robbie plays her as someone more outrageous and boisterous--which is in line with the movie's tone and tempo.
Gillespie has an eclectic background in filmmaking from episodes of "United States of Tara," the Fright Night remake, to the Disney baseball flick Million Dollar Arm. This movie is close in spirit to his Lars and the Real Girl which is much more laconic but has a deep fondness for complex eccentrics. It also takes on the crooked path-setup and the garishness of another memoir flick--Milos Forman's The People vs. Larry Flynt. I, Tonya is soundtracked with well-worn 70s and 80s adult pop rock standards--the kind of music that was perhaps more ubiquitous in Tonya's world than the music of her time. Laura Branigan's "Gloria" even figures--perhaps an in-joke to an ice skating sequence in Flashdance. How Gillespie was able to film the impressively-shot ice skating sequences is a mystery to me and is perhaps due in part to Riegel's editing skills. The movie is sometimes a bit obvious, especially in its excoriating of America (particularly the media), and it also feels overlong, despite its busyness, but it's still a compelling piece to watch with an eternally interesting woman at its core. ***