First Hit: A very engaging story, supremely well-acted, and one of this years best films.
I loved how this film effectively dances between talking directly to the audience through interview cameras and commenting right at the audience during dramatic scenes, while giving us a straight up film. Breaking the plane between the story and the audience isn’t always done very effectively, but here it is perfect.
Tonya Harding (Margo Robbie) was well known as a rough, scrappy, and physical ice skater in the mid 1980’s through the mid 1990’s. She was raised by her abusive mother LaVona (Allison Janney) who threw her on the ice rink because that is all the seven-year-old Tonya wanted to do.
According to the film, LaVona hit Tonya, once threw a knife at her, but most egregiously never showed any empathy, love or caring towards Tonya. All she kept harping on was that she spent all her waitressing money on Tonya’s skating. She was so cold and mean that Tonya grew up knowing nothing about what a supportive, caring, or loving relationship might even look like.
What kept Tonya going through life was her ability to skate and skate well. She was the first woman to ever land a triple axel (3.5 spins in the air landing backwards on the outside edge of the skate) in a competition as well as completing two triple axels in a single competition. As a competitor, she was heads above everyone else in technical merit, scoring the first perfect 6.0 in the U.S. Championships. However, her hard scrabble background was reflected in her presentation scores. Because she was less graceful than physical and had poorly created handmade costumes, these scores were always low. Lastly, she also suffered from asthma which, at times inhibited her ability to skate with inner ease.
The worst and defining moment of her career was when her husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), helped to plan a physical attack on Tonya’s chief skating friend and rival Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). The actual attack by Shane Stant (Ricky Russert) on Kerrigan’s knee was set into motion by Gillooly’s closest friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser). This attack was to give Tonya an advantage at the U.S. Championships and Olympics.
The film used faux, current day and after the fact, interviews of Tonya, Jeff, Shawn, and LaVona to set up certain sequences and sections of this story. The ice skating scenes were well done and effective in showing Tonya’s skating style. Having remembered watching these performances back when they actually happened, they conjured up the direct memories effectively.
Robbie was exquisite as the hard scrabble, poorly educated, and socially inept Tonya. Robbie did some of the skating scenes, and her ability to own Tonya’s physical presence while channeling her inner struggles was what made this work. Janney was beyond amazing as the uncaring emotionless LaVona. She was almost scary and her sitting in the faux interviews with the bird picking at her ear was inspired. Stan as the poorly educated and impulsive Gillooly, whose name became a verb for knee beating, was excellent. Watching him smolder, ready to burst into anger, reflected his inability to help Tonya. Hauser was perfect as the self-promoting dolt who was proud that he made history by hurting Kerrigan. His insistence that he was in international spy and agent was excellent. Julianne Nicholson as Tonya’s skating teacher and trainer, Diane Rawlinson, was excellent. Her slightly distanced engaged caring in working with Tonya and LaVona when Tonya was young and later, as an Olympian, was wonderful. Steven Rogers wrote an excellent screenplay. Craig Gillespie’s direction was spot on perfect. The vision came alive on the screen and I was fully engaged from the beginning.
Overall: This was truly a fun, empathetic, and engaging story and film about Tonya Harding.