I, Tonya (2017): Part Deux

I first watched I, Tonya months before most of my friends thanks to a SIFF preview.  Now that it’s steaming, a few people have been reaching out for my take.  I’ve seen so much Twitter discussion (bickering) and awards season clamor related to Allison Janney, the abusive subject matter, and the pity story for a woman most believe to be involved.  I needed another watch, as I’ve probably seen some 70 movies since then (light estimate) and needed a fresh watch.

I, Tonya is dark comedy about the repercussion of abuse and fame.  Regardless of the truth about Harding’s innocence in “The Incident”, the story delves into a history of lifelong abuse, and follows a tremendous lead actress in Margot Robbie through a maelstrom of concussions and beratings.  I’ve seen complaints of the film making light of the abuse, but I can’t quite find that point. Recounting the abusive homes with Jeff Gillooly (a very much not winter soldier Sebastian Stan) after surviving life with mama LaVonna, Robbie delivers on every pause and explosion.  When told to “Kiss your mother goodbye,” after a pep-talk to stay with her abusive boyfriend, Margot moves from shocked to miserable and angry in a smooth descent into her mother’s cheek. She’s as stunning as Tonya Harding thought she was. Glamour shot of a controversial woman and when that rising, erratic star morphs into interview-era Tonya, the fall is strikingly personal.

Allison Janney winning her inevitable Oscar was pretty well assured when I first caught the film.  She nails her unhinged excuses in her diner, but the sneering, often hilarious line readings tied up her frontrunner status.  As much as I and many others wanted sitcom legend Laurie Metcalf to take home her lived-in-and-fucking-tired mother, the cruel parent is pure Oscar bait.  Laurie just didn’t have the disdain in LaVonna. I love Allison Janney, but there’s a one-note aspect to her performance; videos of the real LaVonna Harding reveal a woman that could at least put on a face.  Janney packs a punch when she’s tearing down her daughter, but after throwing a knife at Tonya, her aghast expression has none of the storytelling on Robbie’s face.

Oscar-wise the editing nomination was unnecessary and confusing.  A pretty standard mockumentary style, the writing would have made more sense for a nomination steal from Original Screenplay (but what could I do without????).  It still has some of my favorite makeup and costumes of last year: the aspects that most accentuated itself on second watch. It’s a well made, entertaining semi-comedy that delivers their piece of the story as told by the interviewees.  Screenwriter Steven Rogers must have decided to get mean after writing romantic comedies like Hope Floats and P.S. I Love You.  The film is cruel but has some smart flow and nails stunned recounting of their Olympic blame-game.  Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) managed to keep the absurdity under control, and he gave the movie performances that stuck.  The angry villain took home the gold, and the 90s-styled comedy made for a creative portrait of an athlete’s crash landing.


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