I, Tonya – 18/18

*** If you don’t know or are confused about how I score movies, please take a look at my Rating System***

This is not a movie for everyone, as much as I wish everyone would watch it.

If you were born before 1990 you probably remember Tonya Harding, Nancy Carrigan, and Jeff Gillooly. I was four when this happened, and I don’t. A year or two older and I’m sure I would have. So I have had to do a lot of learning very fast to catch myself up on this situation. I have lived and breathed Tonya Harding for about 48 hours now, trying to find out everything. It hit me that hard. For anyone of my generation who doesn’t remember the scandal, here is a synopsis:

In 1991, talented figure skater Tonya Harding becomes the first American woman to complete a triple axel during a competition. In 1994, her world comes crashing down when her ex-husband conspires to injure Nancy Kerrigan, a fellow Olympic hopeful, in a poorly conceived attack that forces the young woman to withdraw from the national championship. Harding’s life and legacy instantly become tarnished as she’s forever associated with one of the most infamous scandals in sports history.

It is rated R for Violence, some Sexual Content/Nudity, and Pervasive Language.
The violence comes, yes, from the Nancy Carrigan attack. But there is also a lot of violence in the form of abuse. The movie is not shy about showing the abuse that Tonya says she suffered.
As for sex/nudity, while we see Tonya and her husband going at it a couple times, I don’t actually remember any explicit sex or nudity. Tonya’s stepbrother gabs her boob while she is wearing a bra, then she beats the crap out of him. And there are also a couple scenes that take place in a topless bar, where the dancers are very blurry in the background.
There is pervasive language. Absolutely terrible language. But it is not gratuitous language. The writers didn’t just decide that the characters would be foul mouthed. The actual human beings spoke that way. That makes a huge difference in my book. While I wouldn’t condone that kind of language in real life, this movie is unabashedly honest to these people, and I truly appreciate that.

Rating

Directing 3/3
Acting 4/4
Accuracy 2/2
Soundtrack 3/3
Importance 3/3
Breaking the 4th Wall 1/1
Humor 2/2
Score: 18/18

Acting

Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney knock it out of the park. With something like this, the actors aren’t just becoming someone new. They are becoming someone real. And they nailed it. The emotions are just so real. And, I mean, the real Tonya Harding said she was laughing through the movie and wanted to ask “Mom is that you???”. Nailed. It.

Accuracy

This is very much related to Acting When I say Accuracy, I do not mean that it necessarily tells the truth. It tells the truth as perceived by all the players in the whole mess. But it is dead accurate to the interviews and news reels. I mean, the costumes are exact. The moves, the emotions. After the movie I immediately went home and watched “Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story” that ABC just put out, as well as “Tonya Harding – Anything to win” and I honestly felt like just watching parts of the movie over again. I don’t think I learned hardly anything new from the documentary that I didn’t get in the movie.

Soundtrack

So much Classic Rock. Each song perfectly picked. And a fascinating combination of being a soundtrack for the audience, and onscreen music the characters were listening to.

Breaking the 4th Wall and Humor

This was used in such a fantastic way. I believe the last movie to really utilize this was Deadpool (which I got about halfway through and turned off. I know most people find it hilarious. I think it’s trash. Fight me). “I, Tonya” did it better.  There are sections where the characters are giving interviews, so of course they are talking to the camera. But the thing is, the writer and director wanted to present every truth of every person involved. And all of those truths are completely contradictory. So they are all shown. And often a character will break the 4th wall to either explain what is going on, or to claim the actions we are seeing never happened.
In many ways, this lightened the mood. This movie is being touted as the blackest of comedies. It is. And is simultaneously a tragedy. It is a situation where they make you laugh, because otherwise you would cry. It is sheer coincidence that I JUST taught my students about the purpose of Comic Relief. That it is a reset of emotions, to allow people to stomach the seriousness. That has never been more important than in I, Tonya.

Importance

Here are my thoughts. I support Tonya Harding. I have no idea what involvement she had in “the incident”. In some ways, I’m not sure she, Jeff, or Sean (the self-named “bodyguard”) even know what the truth is anymore. If you tell a lie often enough, you believe it.

Before the movie even came out people were bombing IMDB and Rotten Tomato ratings with comments about how this movie should have never been made, Tonya is guilty, Tonya is a second-rate has-been who couldn’t cut it, Tonya is and always will be trashy, etc. They didn’t want to see anything that humanized or absolved her. Several of the ones I read literally said they didn’t want to see her humanized or sympathized with. Why?
I know why. People want to believe in monsters. They want to believe that normal people aren’t capable of terrible acts. Or that someone who does something terrible cannot be capable of good. It’s the people who say “But MLK cheated on his wife” to ignore the amazing work he did for civil rights. It’s the people who cannot believe that Hitler loved children. It’s moral absolutism. The belief that only monsters do and get caught up in monstrous things, and good people only do good things.

Regardless of anyone’s guilt, this movie needed to be made and seen.
The POINT of this movie is to HUMANIZE the people in it.

The truth of the matter is people don’t exist in a vacuum and neither do their choices and actions. It’s interesting that this movie comes on the heels of the #METOO movement. Tonya claims to have been abused her whole life, both by her mother and her then husband. They both categorically deny ever abusing her. To be honest I think the question of abuse is FAR more important than the question of who planned the Nancy attack.

I believe Tonya. I do. I think her life was hell. I think she was abused and exploited by her mom. I think her mom loved her in her own way. I think her mom probably did the best that she could. But I think her mom beat her and emotionally abused her. She dropped out of school when she was a sophomore. She didn’t have friends. She was desperate to be loved and fell for the first man who said he loved her. He abused and exploited her as well. She only knew violence at home, and the cut-throat environment of the rink. She was 23 years old. That is so young. Her life would have made her grow up fast in some ways. But she would be so emotionally delayed in others due to all the aspects of her upbringing. In many ways she was still a child.

After a lifetime of denying ANY knowledge prior, very recently Tonya admitted “I did, however, overhear them talking about stuff, where, ‘Well, maybe we should take somebody out so we can make sure she gets on the team.’ And I remember telling them, I go, ‘What the hell are you talking about? I can skate.’” Several news sources and commentators are calling this damning evidence. I don’t think so. Think of the people around her. She heard something. She told them to stop. If she never heard anything else, how was she to know? And for her own safety did she dare act against them? If she went to authorities right then it would have been her word against theirs. How do you think Jeff would have taken that? Not to mention she was told by a member of the US Skating Association that she would not be chosen for the Olympics unless she had a wholesome family to present to America.
She just wanted and needed to focus on her skating.

She did hinder the prosecution of those involved. And yes we all say she shouldn’t have. Isn’t it easy to know what other people should have done? Jeff was abusive (I believe). I’m sure she was afraid of him. I’m sure she was even more terrified of what would happen to her if the world found out her husband did this. And that threat would have been more real to her than the true threat of what would happen if she covered up for them. She was 23. She was a child navigating between two brutal worlds that either hated or hurt so much of her.

Conclusion

For whatever she was guilty of, she has paid for a thousand times over. Being banned from skating was a life sentence for her. But the important thing is the next step. It is always the next step. After watching so many interviews, it is obvious that Tonya looks forward and just wants to make a good life for herself and her family.

I think this movie will go a long way to helping people see her as a human-being. And if we see her as a human being, we have to remember that human beings are allowed to change and to grow and to improve.

This movie is a Masterpiece. It has a perfect script, perfect soundtrack, perfect actors, and perfect amount of humanity that lets us see that while what happened to Nancy Carrigan was a tragedy, so was what happened to Tonya Harding.

 

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