Main image
11th February
written by Mad Cow

“Morality” Rating: R, for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity

Mad Cow’s Quality Rating:

There are multiple reasons why this movie should have been nominated for an Oscar Best Picture. It’s a brilliant film. I suspect that its message is the very reason it got passed by. Written by Steve Rogers and Directed by Craig Gillespie, it’s a story of Tonya Harding’s life and the event that ruined her career. Just before the 1994 Olympics, Tonya’s skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was whacked in the leg with a steel baton by someone supposedly hired by her husband, Jeff Gillooly. The movie, framed as a documentary, tells a story, if not “the” story. Most of it has been corroborated, but whether Tonya knew of the attack beforehand only Tonya and her ex-husband know.

Margo Robbie (Suicide Squad; The Big Short) does a magnificent job of portraying Tonya Harding, who grew up in a family that many Americans would call “white trailer trash.” Her father taught her to shoot squirrels at a young age and even made a squirrel fur jacket for her. He left when she was around 6 years old. Her mother, played by Allison Janney, for whom the entire script was written according to her friend Steve Rogers, makes Mommie Dearest look like a saint. The real mother, LaVona Golden, denies the abuse. She was not interviewed but the film is based on interviews with Tonya and her ex, who never told the same story, Jeff’s friend Shawn, and one of her coaches.

Tonya was a skating prodigy, much like a child who starts playing Mozart on the piano at age 3. She begged for lessons and her mother did pay for them while she was growing up. She became a star, in spite of marrying Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, Captain America; The Covenant) who beat her up. (He is now Jeff Stone and in his third marriage. His second wife took out a restraining order on him.) A bit of a ner’er-do-well, he hung around with his best friend, Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser, A Midsummer’s Nightmare; Kingdom), an ignorant, insecure guy who seems never to have ever used critical thinking. I had such a dislike for Eckardt that I almost forget to give well-deserved credit to Hauser.

This movie is not hilarious as some critics have said, unless one thinks that abuse after abuse is funny. Tonya was also abused, in a way, by the skating judges. She was never upper-class enough, she didn’t talk right, and her costumes, sewn by herself, were shabby compared with those of the other skaters. She pushed back to no avail. One gets the notion that skating was considered similar to a beauty contest, in spite of the incredible skill involved. I would hope that things have changed.

Allison Janney, who won a Golden Globe for her role and has been nominated for an Oscar for the same, is brilliant as the embodiment of resentment and anger. Robbie, who is also a producer of this film and a skater, grabs our hearts and doesn’t let go. She may grab the Oscar for this role. Robbie did some of the skating in the film too, after intense training. (Not, of course, the triple axel.) Film editor Tatiana S. Riegal got an Oscar nod as well. Heaven knows why Craig Gillespie and Steve Rogers were overlooked, not to mention the whole shebang. The pace, the dialogue, the action, the settings, the cinematography, the traces of humor to help us bear the pain…I could go on and on.

I know little about skating even as I love it and loved the skating scenes in the movie. Tonya was the first American woman to achieve the triple axel in competition in the U.S. and Europe and the first to execute a triple axel with a double toe loop. (I am totally ignorant of these moves, alas, but plan to be a figure skater in one of my next lives.) The complicated  moves were executed by doubles, skaters Anna Malkova and Heidi Munger. Sarah Kawahara was Robbie’s teacher/trainer/coach.

One wonders what Harding would have gotten out of the attack by two thugs hired by Eckardt. It was stupidly botched, apparently the way everything Eckardt has done is botched. In this case, the movie, if fiction, could have been funny, but there was a lot at stake in real life.   Jeff and Shawn were sent to jail but Tonya was not. The film combines in the courtroom two   sentences   for Tonya, one by the courts  and the  other  by the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Her sentence was much harsher than what the others got.

This movie is about class and sexism. It’s not American enough for the 75% male and average age 63 Oscar voters. Today more women’s stories are being believed, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Films about working class women (when there are any) are about women who rise to remarkable achievement (or better yet just fall in love with a rich guy) and then become miraculously middle-to-upper class and as such “make it.” Tonya remained the scrappy woman that she always was, fighting to get her talent and the product of her actual work, recognized. But in the end she was not wholesome enough and didn’t look good enough. Pay attention to her last words on screen. They are directed at us.



Comments are closed.