Friday, 9 February 2018

Review: I, Tonya

I, Tonya
Cert: 15 / 119 mins / Dir. Craig Gillespie / Trailer

And like that (*clicks fingers*) January's curse was broken and I'm apparently allowed to enjoy new films again. And Oscar-contenders, at that. Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya is a flippantly acerbic bio-pic of Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding, centering particularly on the events surrounding the 1994 attack on her competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Screenwritten by Steven Rogers and based on historical interviews with Harding (played here by Margot Robbie), her on/off husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), her mother and manager LaVona (Allison Janney) and a few others connected with the case, the opening title-cards boldly proclaim that the film which follows is exaggerated and contradictory. Which proves to be both its trump and Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards...

Compiled as a faux documentary, to-camera pieces featuring each of the central characters act as frames for character-building vignettes showing Tonya's early life and progression in competitive skating, as well as her turbulent private life. It's deftly edited but presented as gritty and harsh - on everyone involved - with a scattering of fourth-wall-breaking moments in the story sections. Rogers' screenplay offers its subjects up at their worst and their best (well...) but never quite passes judgement; that privilege is placed directly on the audience.

But as impressive as the storytelling craft is (and it is), that's nothing compared to the performances. Within five minutes of I, Tonya beginning, it becomes clear that both Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are absolutely on-fire, here. The pushy parent/coach dynamic has long been a cinematic staple in sports movies, but it's rarely been brought to the screen with so much visceral, seething energy (while also managing to be far funnier than it has any right to be). Awards-buzz for this film is richly deserved, as will be those trophies which are inevitably brought home.

All of this is topped off with an immense jukebox soundtrack (much of which is diegetic) that manages to escape the trap of 'listen to how cool my favourite records are'*1 (cf). And as if you hadn't gathered from the trailer, there is a lot of The Effing And The Jeffing in I, Tonya, although a script and subject matter as direct as this earns each and every expletive*2.

As someone who neither knows nor cares about the vast majority of All The Sport (and previously knew little-to-nothing about the case in question), my enthusiasm for I Tonya has caught me off-guard a little. But as other film-makers have shown, there's a massive difference between using sport as a setting for a great movie and trying to make a great movie about the sport. Craig Gillespie has fashioned something absolutely magnetic, at any rate.

Although even I have to admit, I have no idea how the 'team-up' episode of this franchise is going to play out…

I, Frankenstein  I, Daniel Blake  I, Tonya

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
The Wolf of Wall Street, Miss Sloane.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Not entirely sure what the re-watch value will be for most people, but it's worth owning as a great example of screen-acting.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Time will tell, but it's definitely up there.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Unlikely, as much as I loved I, Tonya, I know not everyone will connect with it.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: I'm old enough to remember when Margot Robbie played the unrequited love of General Hux in About Time

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Because not even the most cloying hipster would playlist Barracuda or Gloria if they knew people were watching. [ BACK ]

*2 Okay, with maybe one exception, but I won't tell you where that is. Just enjoy the swears. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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