Movie review: I, Tonya

Movie reviews

Hello!

Just in time for Winter Olympics 2018 in PyeongChang, I got a chance to see a biopic of a former Olympic figure skater. This is I, Tonya!

IMDb summary: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Writing

I, Tonya was written by Steven Rogers – a writer of mostly romantic comedies and dramas. I thought that he did quite an excellent job with a new kind of story for him – a biographical black comedy. Of course, a lot of the appeal of the writing came from the peculiar and fascinating subject matter itself – Tonya Harding’s life. I really liked the structure of the film: the 4th wall breaking interviews + flashbacks. This type of structure didn’t make the movie feel choppy at all but added a layer of almost documentary-like authenticity. I also liked how the first’s part of the movie explored Tonya’s life prior to the event and only the second part focused on the event and its aftermath. By not making the whole movie about the incident with Nancy Kerrigan (who, btw, only showed up briefly – this picture was, truly, Tonya’s story and I’ve seen some supporters of Nancy complain about that online), the filmmakers really made this movie into a well-rounded biography of Tonya’s rather than just a retelling of a single event in her life. I also found the themes that the movie explored very interesting: the two major concepts that the picture looked at were family and sport – both of which intersected in Tonya Harding’s life.

Lately, ‘sport’ movies have been about so much more than just sport (like, Battle of the Sexes, in addition to I, Tonya). Gone are the days of basic inspirational sports movies of underdogs succeeding. Now, the underdogs don’t always win and the hurdles in their way are even higher and more complicated (less black and white too). Also, a recurring topic that I’ve noticed in the latest ‘sports’ movies was elitism in sport, which was explored here through the need of a ‘wholesome American family’ for a world-class skater and in Borg Vs. McEnroe through a need to come from a certain class (the higher the better) to be able to play tennis.

Looking for parallels with the other movies further, interestingly, Tonya Harding wasn’t the only real-life movie heroine this awards’ season who was told all her life that she wasn’t good enough (Molly from Molly’s Game was too). There is no question that her mother was a horrible and abusive parent. However, did that abuse really made Tonya tougher and a champion, as her mom asserted? I’d disagree, as it seems that Tonya went from one abusive family to create an abusive and dysfunctional family of her own. And yet, was she only a product of her upbringing and circumstances? Or whether some of it was completely on her? Was she inherently violent or did she learn violence? Either way, while the movie raised a lot of questions for me (as evident in this paragraph), it did provide me with one clear answer: Tonya deserved better. Also, I do believe that Tonya wasn’t to blame as much as she was blamed (she wasn’t completely blameless either). However, it seems that the skating world really could not past up an opportunity to avenge themselves not only for the incident but for her whole attitude towards them.

But, this is only my takeaway from the film. Other viewers might have understood the message differently and that’s okay because, as the movie itself stated at the very beginning: there are different versions of the truth. However, I do believe that there is a consensus among the viewers about who was the most despicable character in the film. If you didn’t think it was the bodyguard, then you really shouldn’t read this review further. I absolutely hated his character not only for his final actions that damned everyone else but just how he weaseled himself into that situation in the first place. He was truly an idiot, and that special kind of idiot, that, I’m sad to say, only seems to come in the US. Another very American aspect of the movie was the public’s reaction to the incident: Americans are a special nation who love to love celebrities as much as they love to hate them. Though it looks like this trend (of love and hate) is spreading to other parts of the world now too, mostly because of the social media.

Directing

Craig Gillespie (of The Finest Hours and Million Dollar Arm) directed I, Tonya and did a stellar job. He paced and edited the movie really well. The cinematography was great too – I loved how close and intimate the camera was during the skating sequences. The head replacement effect was noticeable in some of those sequences but not as much as to take the viewer out of the movie. The setting of the period was realized spot-on. The breaking of the 4th wall not only during the interview sequences but during the flashbacks was great too and fit the black comedy/’so crazy it has to be true’ tonne of the film. The picture was also incredibly funny but in that ‘I feel horrible for laughing’ kind of a way. I loved its irony and that satirical feeling.  The mirrored visuals in the ending, with Harding twirling on ice vs falling in a boxing, were amazing and quite sad as well.

Acting

Margot Robbie (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Tarzan, The Big Short), who has been steadily increasing her mainstream fanbase with every movie she has starred in, especially Suicide Squad, did an absolutely stellar job as the titular character. She not only acted in the film but also produced it. This role of hers reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster, as both actresses got really de-glamourized in order to portray their respective characters. I also loved how Robbie was able to portray Tonya as a graceful dancer who wasn’t girly but rather more masculine. I thought that Robbie’s best scenes in the film (the ones that were definitely in her awards reel) were: 1)her just looking at the mirror before the 1994 Olympics and 2)her reaction to the sentence of the trial. Fun fact: the girl who played young Tonya was Mckenna Grace. In addition to playing the younger version of an actress who is Harley Quinn, she has also starred in Gifted alongside Captain America, a.k.a Chris Evans.

Allison Janney (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Girl on the Train) was also incredible in the film and is deservedly getting a lot of awards recognition for it. I wish that Sebastian Stan, who played Tonya’s husband, would have also gotten some awards nods because he too was excellent in the film. Stan has been steadily building quite a successful career for himself too, like Robbie, by starring in the supporting roles in smaller/awards films (The Martian, Logan Lucky) and by portraying a fan favorite character in a big franchise, a.k.a. Bucky in MCU (who was last seen in Civil War plus, a certain post-credits scene in a certain movie.

In short, I, Tonya was a great film with a fascinating subject matter and a stellar execution.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: I, Tonya trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Molly’s Game

Movie reviews

Hello!

Yesterday, I got a chance to attend a secret preview screening as an unlimited cinema club card holder. Thankfully, the secret movie turned out to be one that I was highly looking forward to. This is Molly’s Game!

IMDb summary: The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target.

  1. Molly’s Game was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. I really enjoyed the last three movies that he has written – The Social Network, Moneyball, and especially Steve Jobs – so I knew that I was going to probably like the writing for his current film too (the script was based on the real life’s Molly’s book – the novel itself plays a role in the screenplay). What really peaked my interest was the fact that Sorkin directed Molly’s Game in addition to writing it (this picture was his directorial debut). What an incredible first attempt at directing!
  2. I absolutely loved the writing for Molly’s Game. The narrative unraveled over and jumped around three different time periods – Molly’s childhood/adolescence, her poker career, and her arrest/trial – that were separately amazing but even better when put together. The childhood parts (the backstory) acted as the character development (the opening skiing sequence was brief but it set up Molly’s personality super efficiently – she was and remained a fighter). The poker career was the most fascinating part and had some neat commentary about the toxicity of perfectionism (as a recovering overachiever I could relate to those ideas). The scenes involving her arrest and trial developed Molly’s character even further (she was a good person that stepped into a situation she lost control of) and had some neat thoughts about the worth of one’s name (that The Crucible comparison was appreciated by me, as an English Literature student, quite a lot.
  3. From the technical point of view, nobody could have mistaken the writer of this film. Molly’s Game had Sorkin’s signature rapid-fire narration all throughout the film and long “walk and talk” scenes. Usually, the narration in movies gets tiring but not when the content of it is so interesting. Having said that, as somebody who has never played poker, I did get a bit lost in all of the explanations of the game. Nevertheless, they sounded informative and exciting even if I couldn’t get everything. The smart jokes; the ideas about power and chance; and the differences between gamblers and poker players, were all neat additions to the script too.
  4. The direction and the editing of the picture were both amazing. Molly’s Game was a long movie but it didn’t feel like a long film because of the rapid narration and the quick editing. Having said that, the picture also had some appropriately slow emotional moments. But, it never dwelled on them for too long. The poker scenes were as good as the one in Casino Royale (my favorite poker scene in a movie ever): tense and exciting. A lot of out-sourced montages (newsreels, etc.) were also used and added that biographical drama feeling to the film.
  5. Jessica Chastain (Interstellar, The Martian, The Huntsman) absolutely shined as Molly. Everybody knows that she is a great actress and she just proved that again. Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation, Bastille Day, Star Trek Beyond, The Dark Tower, The Mountain Between Us, Thor: Ragnarok) was also great and I’m so happy that he finally got a great dramatic role to play. Kevin Costner (Hidden Figures) had a great supporting role, while Michael Cera (The Lego Batman, Sausage Party), Jeremy Strong (The Big Short), Brian d’Arcy James (Spotlight), and Chris O’Dowd (Miss Peregrine) all appeared too, playing awful people really well. Stranger Things’ fan favorite Joe Kerry (Steve on the Netflix show) had a cameo as well.

In short, Molly’s Game was a well-directed biographical drama with a fascina story at its center.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Molly’s Game trailer