The Most Culturally Relevant Film of 2017
I, Tonya (2017): 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.
This movie is freaking amazing. While it may not be the "best" all-around movie of the year, (though it is close) it is, without a doubt, the most relevant and necessary film of the year. It's also my personal favorite by far. I, Tonya tells the infamous story of the scandal between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan through interviews of Tonya herself, her husband Jeff, (played by Sebastian Stan) her mother LaVona (played by Allison Janney) and a few others. The presentation of this story is undoubtedly the highlight. Not only does director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers utilize voice-overs so well that it would make The Big Short jealous, but they even change the perspective of individual scenes in an engaging and subtle way throughout the film. More on that later. In addition to telling its crazy and over-the-top story in an amazing way, the film features phenomenal acting, a great soundtrack, and fantastic editing. So let's dive into why I, Tonya is one of the year's best films!
Let's hit that acting first. The wonderful Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding in what is clearly a labor of love for her. She undergoes a pretty noticeable transformation to play this character, and man is she magnificent. This role solidifies Robbie (for me, at least) as a top-of-the-line A-list celebrity in Hollywood. Not to be outdone by Robbie though is Allison freaking Janney in a role that has earned her a deserving Oscar nomination. (Her first ever) Tonya's mother LaVona is a complex character with no redeeming qualities, and Janney goes ALL OUT to play her. It's hard to believe this is the same woman that played the charismatic and legendary C.J. Cregg in The West Wing, but man do I love it! She's simply incredible. Honestly it's one of the best performances of 2017, period. While these two are the highlights in the film, their male counterparts also put in stellar performances. Sebastian Stan was great playing this complex character that you almost love to hate, and Paul Walter Hauser was HILARIOUS as Shawn, Tonya's.....bodyguard. Hauser is a relative newcommer to Hollywood as this is his first major supporting role, but I can't wait to see what's next for him. He had me rolling on the floor laughing with his delivery and persona. However, while the acting is incredible, it's the style in which this story's told that is the highlight of the film.
The voice-over narration of this film is hysterical. Not only is this film told using, in its own words, "Wildly contradictory, irony free, and totally true" interviews, but it also shoots individual scenes from different points-of-view. I didn't notice this as first because it is quite subtle, but this storytelling style made the film unpredictable and that much more fun-to-watch. One scene, Tonya is clueless and naive while asking her husband if he had anything to do with "the incident" with Nancy Kerrigan, the next she's acting like she's totally in on it. One scene Jeff is beating the crap out of her, and the next scene she's teaming up with him to yell at another character (Jeff's friend Shawn, played by Hauser) for no reason whatsoever. It was utterly fascinating. I think there's a video essay to be had on the screenplay of this film and how it tells its story. It's a damn shame writer Steven Rogers didn't receive any love from the Academy in this year's Oscar nominations. Much as I loved Logan, that definitely did not deserve the nod over this. These perspective changes also sold me on the voiceover narration, which is certainly easy to screw up. In many films voiceovers are a crutch on the story, (and over-explain things) but here they add to it and help us navigate the changing perspectives. Oh! And it's funny! This film is SO freaking funny. It made me bust my gut laughing on more than one occasion, and it even managed to break the fourth wall in a hilarious and not-corny way. LaVona has a joke in this vein about halfway through and it is the freaking joke of the year for film. Also! This movie features a fantastic soundtrack with a lot of smart and savvy musical choices. While it's not Baby Driver levels of great, you will find yourself tapping your foot to the beat and listening to the on-point lyrics that were meticulously chosen for each scene. About the only negative I have with this film is in the makeup and effects departments. Gillespie's team didn't do a very good job making Margot Robbie look 15, which she has to pull off early in the film, but this by no means diminished from the overall viewing experience. They cast Margot Robbie to play the lead character, and Tonya spent most of the first half of the film in her teenage years, so they might as well just use her. And some of the effects are corny, particularly in the slow motion skating moments. But this film had a budget of $11 million, most of which was probably for the actors, so I'll forgive it for having less-than-stellar visual effects.
Finally, I REALLY love the fact that this film never really cares about whether Tonya "did it" or not. That's not the point, and THIS is what makes I, Tonya the most relevant film of the year. (You knew I had to address that statement sooner or later) It focuses more on the fallout and consequences to the incident Tonya had to face, and the adversity she experienced during her brief career because she didn't "fit the part" of a women's figure skater. Figure skating was clearly eager to crucify Tonya Harding because she didn't come from a "wholesome American family" and didn't represent "America's values," and she dealt with adversity her entire career because of it. And now, in 2017, while monsters like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are trying to plot their comeback stories, (if they are "truly sorry" of course..... :( ) I think it's about time we allow a woman to change the image that's been forced upon her. THAT'S the goal of I, Tonya, and it achieves this goal effectively and in a riveting manner. This is one of the best films of the year, and it's absolutely worth your time. ESPECIALLY if you think Tonya Harding is a monster for what she may (or may not) have done. However, if you still think Tonya is a monster after seeing this film...... that's fine. She doesn't care about you anyway. After all, as she would say...... fuck 'em.
The Critique: Featuring phenomenal performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. a unique storytelling style, and an important message, I, Tonya is the most relevant and worthwhile film of 2017.
The Recommendation: You knew this one was coming: It's an absolute must-see!
The Verdict: 10/10 Perfect
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