Director: Craig Gillespie
Writer: Steven Rogers
Cinematographer: Nicolas Karakatsanis
Producer: Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Steven Rogers, and Bryan Unkeless
by Jon Cvack
The film is told with the frenetic pace found in films like Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Boogie Nights (1997), The Big Short (2015), or even this year’s Molly’s Game; though as with most attempts at replication, especially from a director who has rarely dabbled in this style, it felt a bit too borrowed. The film is introduced in the present day with all of the major players involved, including Tonya’s mom LaVona Fey (Allison Janney), her abusive ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and Hard Copy reporter Martin Maddox (Bobby Cannavale) who first began covering the story.
LaVona Fey’s profanity is only broken by the endless amount of cigarillos she plows through each day; scolding Tonya for the tiniest mistake, going so far as to make her piss her pants before progressing to actual abuse. For some reason this gets a pass amongst today’s social media warriors, as similar to Sam Rockwell’s racist character from Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017)who has a confusing and rapid redemption, when you really think about LaVona Fey as a person, aside from Allison Janney's fantastic performance, it’s not exactly a person we should be laughing with.
Tonya soon grows and Margot Robbie takes over the role; providing one of those rare moments where while I recognized the actress I couldn’t put my finger on it; absolutely blown away to discover the same woman from The Wolf of Wall Street. She soon meets Jeff Gillooly, who counter to LaVona, is portrayed as an awful human being who I despised throughout the entire film. The two have a tumultuous relationship, similar to Gosling and McAdams from The Notebook (2004), except with fists, knives, and guns involved as he physically abuses her. Regardless, Tonya is unable to leave him, even after ending up in the emergency room, filing for a divorce, and ultimately getting a restraining order.
Tonya continues competing throughout the film, though due to her cheap wardrobe and heavy metal music and foul mouth, is never able to get the scores she needs to advance to the Olympics; that is, until she lands the first triple axel during practice, earning a berth at the 1992 Winter Olympics where due to either being hungover and out of shape or a faulty skate blade she falls and comes in fourth. Unfortunately, sponsors don’t care about those who come in fourth, forcing her to become a waitress where she lets her body go and returns to Jeff. As with any underdog story, she’s approached by her old coach from the past who insists on giving it one more go. However, this is also where the story shifts, as Jeff (now her manager) and his friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) attempt to sabotage one of Tonya’s top competitors, Nancy Kerrigan.
Unknown to Tonya, what starts out as a bomb threat evolves into hiring a couple of low-level crooks who botch up the plan by bludgeoning Nancy in the knee with a lead pipe, destroying her entire career, rather than disrupting the moment. The investigation picks up steam, and given how stupid Jeff, Shawn, and their co-conspirators are, the police get the evidence they need to convict, bringing down Tonya, though not before she skates for last time in the 1994 Winter Olympics, coming in eighth place.
Not knowing anything about Tonya and the criminal plot, it was a fascinating story that could have used about a fifteen-minute trim; though similar to my feelings about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, it at times felt like the film was poking fun at a bunch of stupid working-class people rather than keeping the focus on the story’s strongest and most interesting character that is Tonya Harding. Ultimately I would have rather spent the final forty-five minutes watching Tonya’s banishment from competitive skating and entrance into the world of MMA fighting than following her abusive ex-husband’s criminal conspiracy and give him any more attention than he’s already received. I knew it would never work out, that he and his co-conspirators would make stupid mistakes, and eventually get caught because that’s how they’re portrayed throughout the entire film; and so rather than following Tonya’s incredible story, I was forced to now follow characters who I despised. Like Tonya who landed slightly off and lost her chance at the gold, the film makes a similar and slight mistake that prevents it from achieving the same.
BELOW: Relegating one of the more interesting pieces of Tonya's story into a quick two minute outro
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