I, Tonya (2017)
Signed up the 28/03/2017
Margo Robbie glides in as Tonya Harding in the hard-hitting, satirical recount of the renowned figure skater's life. I, Tonya is the one movie that's been causing ripples to wave throughout the year at various prestige film festivals, before its official theatrical release, though limited, for December.
The film is an allegory on pure instinct and natural selection. Tonya, from a small age, is bred and moulded to be brute in her manner; callous, numb and calculating. Her mother, depicted brilliantly by Allison Janney, is as feral and plain cold. The abuse which habitually unfolds within the Harding household is normalised so much that the audience only cringes at it in the beginning. As the movie progresses, the audience is conditioned into dismissing the abuse as customary. This speaks to the extent of the programming and manipulation the victim endures pre-abuse, that they quickly learn to adapt to and fall into route of it.
Tonya's cunning husband Jeff Gillooly (played by The Winter Soldier's Sabestian Stan) strikes her so much that she excuses it for and accepts it as love. The truly heartbreaking part is that she often revisits her childhood and weighs her husband's behaviour against her mother's and concludes that it is normal for the people who love her to act violently as a performance of their adoration, as that's all that she'd ever been offered.
Tonya takes her childhood traumas and turns them into motivation to become the best figure skater in the world. Her need to be a paramount in her field isn't inspired by ambition as much as it is by spite; needing to stick it to everyone who has ever told her she wasn't good enough.
As a result of cruel upbringing, Tonya becomes a degenerate. She goes through life with a chest puffed with bitterness, cold-ambition, and self-loathe. She is as rigid as ancient rocks, sharp as a machete. She doesn't waver in the eye of a storm, no matter its shape or form; her vicious, manipulative husband, or even the demeaning judges she has encountered at her figure skating events.
Tonya's sharp-tongued mother is shameless about the ferocious acts she had committed against her daughter. She believes that all the anger she had afforded her child through her life and her short-lived figure skating career was a necessary evil, which was what eventually propelled her forth to become the standard in the sport. What's most disturbing is that she takes credit for Tonya's need for validation and to prove everyone wrong about herself, but never accounts for emotionally breaking and ruining her.
Director Craig Gillespie borrows from Martin Scorsese's meticulous, docu-esque storytelling technique; camera positioning, editing, character narration, cross-cutting, etc., though it never feels like a rip-off as it is an ode. The movie's technical qualities are as excruciatingly proprelling as the narrative and dramatic arcs. There are various scenes where my heart swelled with intense emotion as the camera menacingly navigated from facial-expression, rooms and hallways, to Tonya on ice.
She is exactly the black-swan her mother wanted her to be when she's skating; her body moves with vigour and confidence as much as it is vigilant and hardened. She's able to loosen up and be light at will—to cater to the movements and skill required to pull off certain moves, because afterall she does love and care for her one ability. Where not much physical adjustments is required during her performances, such as her face, her bitterness is apparent.
She hardly smiles. She is stiffened by grief. And this is unfortunately what costs her most of the championships she deserved. The judges together with the American audience seeked a wholesome American, who dressed the part as much as she acted it. Tonya didn't have any of the specific qualities required to be an American darling, so she was discriminated against for being too poor and being too manly, too. As unfair as it was, the world continued to prove to her that (her) talent didn't mean much. But who was she outside of her talent? Unfortunately Tonya was undervalued and faded into the curtains, regardless of her being the best world-wide in her chosen sport. Which is a revelation of how truly condemning and unpredictable the world can be.
I, Tonya is a crude documentary (mockumentary?) that embraces dark comedy as much as it does histrionic, nostalgic filmmaking. This infusion comes in a perfect bowl consistent in its character delivery, dialogue and direction. The song selection is too a wonder. The songs seamlessly seep into and enhance significant moments in the figure-skating champion's life.
The movie's contradictory tone speaks to how society was then and still is now- as the characters recount their perspective of events that transpired back then, in the present day, and all their recounts aren't true to what actually happened, but rather what they want the world to know. I, Tonya is relentless and rythmic, and old-school. It is a wonderful thrill of a movie that everyone should not only watch, but reflect on.
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