Nominations: 3 (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Editing)
Seen Monday, February 12, 10:10pm, Gateway Film Center
It would be impossible, for me at least, to discuss this movie without also discussing my feelings on The Incident, as the film says: the attack on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. They are inextricably linked — the film would not exist without the assault — and while I prefer to evaluate a piece of art strictly on its own merits, in this case it simply can’t be done. Not entirely.
For the record, I believe Tonya Harding was not explicitly involved in the planning or execution of the assault, but I also believe she was not so stupid as to be completely unaware of what was going on around her. She’s not the most refined individual, but she’s not completely obtuse. And you would have to be blind not to pick up on what idiot Jeff and his moron friends were up to. She’s also someone who, no doubt out of necessity and a survival instinct, tends to shift blame away from herself whenever possible. That said, I also believe Tonya Harding was dealt an incredibly raw deal, both before and after The Incident, by the U.S. Figure Skating Association and by the media at large (not to mention her wildly abrasive/abusive mother, local authorities, and society as a whole). I’m sympathetic to the bullshit she’s had to deal with, but I don’t excuse an inch of what happened to Kerrigan. Tonya still made choices, after all.
Incidentally, I also believe Nancy Kerrigan should be a lot more revered than she is. Girl got her knee bashed in and six weeks later went on to win a SILVER MEDAL AT THE OLYMPICS. I still can’t walk up or down stairs with confidence after falling and wrenching my knee three years ago. That chick is a beast.
And so we come to the movie, a twistedly funny, yet not comical, look at the key players in Tonya’s life. It dives right in to all the vulgarity and profanity that was common to Tonya and her community, but it does it with a wink. It acknowledges the sensationalism of it all, but it does so with the clear understanding that these characters are real people living real lives.
There’s a point at which Margot Robbie, as Tonya, mourns the moment she became a national punchline, but Robbie’s performance never treats her as one. She’s portrayed as a perhaps ridiculous person, yes, and one without tact or graciousness or the ability to navigate the extremely classist world of figure skating, but not as a caricature. It’s a performance that’s completely respectful of Tonya as a human being — not a hero or an anti-hero or a princess or a monster, but a person. A flawed, talented, unlucky, driven, combative, hardworking, insecure person with an amazing gift and the will to realize it.
Likewise, Allison Janney takes a role that could be straight-up villainous — that of Tonya’s bad-mouthing, hard-living, chain-smoking mother — and turns in a performance that is ugly and funny and regretful and not entirely unaware of who her daughter is or what she needs.
On a larger scale, the film subtly raises questions about class and gender in our society, about what qualities a young woman “should” have and about who is allowed to succeed. Being a young woman myself at the time, I was painfully aware of the lines being drawn between proper (Nancy) and trashy (Tonya), and how unfair it ultimately was to both of them. (As I said a few paragraphs earlier, Kerrigan was a BEAST — a ballsy, fearless competitor. She didn’t deserve to be painted as a delicate flower any more than Tonya deserved to be painted as rubbish.) It makes apparent the tangled webs that are abusive relationships, and it quietly indicts those who did nothing to save Tonya from hers.
On top of all that, it’s a REALLY enjoyable movie. I liked it a LOT, with Robbie and Janney turning in two of my favorite performances of the year. If not for some clunky CGI and some unsettling Bobby Cannavale tan-face, it might be vying for my favorite movie of the year, and with Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name in contention, that’s saying something.