“I, Tonya” explores the seedy underbelly of a sport you didn’t think had a seedy underbelly. A darkly humorous look at the defining moment of figure skater Tonya Harding’s career, it’s a tale of death threats, broken blades and attempted hobbling.
Margot Robbie is Harding, an elite athlete who sums up her career with, “I was loved for a minute. Then I was hated. Then I was a punch line.” As a young child all she wanted to do was skate. A rink rat from age four, she began winning figure skating awards at a time when her friends were still learning cursive. Her embittered mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), the kind of person who stubs out her cigarette out in her mashed potatoes, is a punishing presence, pushing her relentlessly to be the best. “You’re not here to make friends,” she screeches when young Tonya pauses to say hello to a fellow skater. “That girl is your enemy.”
With the help of trainer Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) Harding rises through the ranks, developing an aggressive and athletic style that sees her out skate most of her competitors to become the first skater to complete a triple axel combination with the double toe loop. Trouble is, her homemade costumes, Trashy Tonya nickname and hair trigger temper are not accepted by the skating establishment. “You’re not the image we want to portray,” she’s told. “You’re representing our country and we want a wholesome American family.”
To even the playing field husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) hatches a plan to unnerve Tonya’s biggest threat on the ice—Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). What starts off as psychological warfare against a competitor snowballs into “The Incident,” a scandalous affair vaults Harding’s name into the headlines. On January 6, 1994, just six weeks before the Lillehammer Olympics, unbeknownst to Harding, a thug, hired by Gillooly’s friend and co-conspirator Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser), broke Kerrigan’s knee as she walked through a corridor at Cobo Arena immediately after a practice session. “The Incident” made front page news and eventually saw Harding ousted from the sport she loved.
Director Craig Gillespie keeps the tone light and lively but presents Harding in a light never before seen. Framing her as an abused woman, first by her mother, then Gillooly and finally, devastatingly, by the press and the public—“You’re all my abusers,” she says directly to camera.—creates sympathy for a woman who has been widely vilified and mocked.
Robbie dons blue nail polish, perms her hair, chants her “It wasn’t my fault” mantra and hits a career high as the self-described redneck skater who had a shot at the big time. Bold and brassy, it’s a fourth wall breaking performance that could have slid into caricature but doesn’t. It’s a warts and all portrayal that doesn’t try and pull on your heart-strings or pander to easy theatrics. In Robbie’s hands Harding is still rough around the edges—“Nancy gets hit one time,” she complains, “and it’s life altering event.”—but “I, Tonya” looks beyond the Trashy Tonya image so often portrayed in the press to transform the punch line into a person.
In a movie full of showy roles Janney shines brightly. As the chain-smoking LaVona she’s a foulmouthed force of nature that belittles her daughter at every turn. “She skates better when she’s enraged,” she hacks. When its own style occasionally bogs the movie down Janney shows up like a bad penny to keep things interesting.
“I, Tonya” is “based on irony free, often contradictory interviews” with the main players in Harding’s life. As a result it’s messy, but this is a messy story about a woman who paid a heavy price for daring to be herself. Not conforming cost her everything but you get a sense, by the end of the film, it’s a price she was willing to pay.
Richard and CP24 anchor Nick Dixon have a look at the weekend’s new movies including Chris Hemsworth’s funny take on his most famous character in “Thor: Ragnarok,” the lump of coal that is “A Bad Moms Christmas” and the strangest movie of the year, “The Killing of the Sacred Deer.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Lois Lee to have a look at the clown prince of Asgard in “Thor: Ragnarok,” the grammatically incorrect “A Bad Moms Christmas, the strange “The Killing of the Sacred Deer” and the religious drama “Novitiate.”
“Novitiate,” the new drama from director Margaret Betts, is a story of love, piety, obedience and sacrifice that is as tightly wound as one of Reverend Mother’s (Melissa Leo) Rosaries.
Cathleen (played as a youngster by Eliza Stella Mason) is a just seven years old when she falls in love for the first time. Taken to church for the first time by her non-religious mother Nora (Julianne Nicholson) the little girl becomes attracted to the solemnity of the service. It’s the polar opposite of her home life where Mom and Dad (Chris Zylka) are constantly at one another’s throats. When she’s offered a chance to attend Catholic school for free Cathleen jumps at the chance despite Nora’s misgivings.
At the convent school Cathleen (played by Margaret Qualley from age seventeen on) finds the life she was always unable to enjoy at home. Under the watchful eye of Reverend Mother the teenager decides to give herself over to the church, become a nun and devote herself to the worship and servitude of God.
“That’s the craziest thing I have ever heard,” comes Nora’s stunned reaction.
“I was called,” says Cathleen. “I want to become a nun and there is nothing you can do to make me change my mind.”
Her training—from postulant to the novitiate—coincides with the introduction of Vatican II, a reaction to changing cultural practises after World War II that signalled widespread changes in the church. With change afoot Cathleen determines what it means to embark on a life as a servant of God, as Reverend Mother grapples with what the changes mean to her faith.
“Novitiate” is a detailed, sombre look at the nature of faith that sometimes feels like two movies in one. Cathleen’s narrative leads the story and is the most compelling part of the film but her story of love and sacrifice is diluted by Reverend Mother’s reaction to the reformist and more-liberal-than-she’d-like Vatican II dictums. The characters are bookends but even with the two hour run time there isn’t quite enough story to dive deep into their lives and make us care about both.
Better stated are Cathleen’s quandaries. She wrangles but rarely waivers with her faith, presenting a complex look at the personal toll that comes with the gruelling novitiate process. Qualley and her supporting cast of “sisters”— Liana Liberato, Eline Powell, Morgan Saylor, Maddie Hasson and Ashley Bell—are a mosaic of characters placed together to show the various reasons the young women chose to become nuns.
Leo humanizes the severe Reverend Mother, turning her from stern mistress to a person caught in the tide of change and unable to swim.
Betts, who also wrote “Novitiate’s” script, brings nuance and thoughtfulness to most characters but as a whole the meditative mood of the movie’s two storylines never coalesce.
In Black Mass, Dakota Johnson has a high profile role as the steely-but-sweet girlfriend to notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger but for much of her life she was simply known as a child of Hollywood, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson.
Despite an acting career that stretches back to 1999, the 25-year-old became a sensation just last year when she landed the lead role in one of the most anticipated films of the decade.
She beat out half of young Hollywood to play Anastasia Steele in the fastest selling R-rated title ever, Fifty Shades of Grey. She bared all, physically and emotionally; and became famous enough to have designers create clothes for her and an avalanche of interesting scripts to tumble her way. She’ll soon be seen in a Fifty Shades sequel and a remake of the legendary Italian horror film Suspiria.
This week she stars opposite her 21 Jump Street co-star Johnny Depp — they appeared in the 2012 film — as Lindsey Cyr, mother of Bulger’s son and the only person in South Boston who would stand up to the infamous killer.
Cyr is still alive but Johnson didn’t think it was a good idea to meet with her.
“It would have been if my goal had been to be extremely accurate but my goal was to bring out a different side of Jimmy. We talked about meeting her but we decided that it would have added a bunch of components. You wouldn’t see them. You wouldn’t see the stories she was telling because it wasn’t part of our story.”
Instead she studied footage of the former diner waitress and lawyer’s assistant.
“I did as much research as was available to me,” she says, “but the majority of the footage I found on her was pretty recent and it was her looking back on her time with Jimmy Bulger.
“Obviously the time that we see them together (in the film) is when she is quite young. A lot of that came from working it out with (director) Scott Cooper and Johnny.”
In her most intense scene she stares down and out-manoeuvres the controlling gangster after personal tragedy strikes the couple.
“There was a very heavy atmosphere on set but because Johnny was really not himself, he was a completely different person and because I’m not a mother and have never experienced anything as profoundly devastating as losing a child, I think we both completely slipped away from ourselves. That allowed us to create the scene the way it was.”
On acting: Edgerton portrays former FBI agent as a ‘bad dude’
Joel Edgerton didn’t meet the inspiration for his character in Black Mass, former FBI agent John Connolly.
“He’s alive and with us, albeit in federal prison and a little hard to reach,” said the Australian actor. The real-life Connolly was convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice charges stemming from his relationship with gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.
“His version of events doesn’t line up with our version…. I felt like it was a little unfair to go and visit him in federal prison and say, ‘You stay in here while I’m over here making you look like a bad dude.’ It felt like it wasn’t a very genuine thing to do.”