Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Simple Plan

I, Tonya
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan, Juliane Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale
Released: December 8, 2017
Viewed in theaters: January 31, 2018

Oscar nominations:
Best Actress - Margot Robbie (lost to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Best Supporting Actress - Allison Janney (won)
Best Film Editing (lost to Dunkirk)

I remember the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding incident (as it is so referred to in the film), but I don't remember everything. This was a big deal when it happened and it was everywhere. But after it went away, I never really gave much thought about it (or Kerrigan and Harding as they both seemed to disappear, too) until this movie came out. Well, that's not true. I do remember watching a 30 For 30 documentary about this incident a few years ago on YouTube. I was trying to remember if I knew who Kerrigan or Harding were before the incident happened, but I honestly can't remember. I'm not a huge figure skating fan, but I do watch it at the Olympics and I'm sure I was familiar with their names prior to Lillehammer, especially Kerrigan's since she was the favorite that year. From this movie, I learned that Harding was at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, which I had no idea, but, I didn't watch those Olympics.

To be honest, if the incident had never happened, I don't think I would have remembered either Kerrigan or Harding or would have just vaguely remembered them. I looked up women's figure skating at the Olympics to see who medaled. This is what I remembered before I even looked at it: Kristi Yamaguchi got the gold in '92 (btw, I once wrote to her and got an autographed photo back); Tara Lipinski got the gold in '98, and Sarah Hughes got the gold in '02. If somebody asked me who the most famous figure skater of all time is, I would say Michelle Kwan, even though she never won an Olympic gold (damn you, Lipinski! (and that's really the only reason why I remember Tara!)) Kwan was huge in the late '90s and early '00 and I honestly don't know who really took her place when she retired...I really can't name you another famous skater since then.

Of course I remember Oksana Baiul got the gold in' 94 with Kerrigan getting the silver, but believe me, if KneeGate had never happened, I would not have remembered Baiul at all. While I was looking at the list, I saw that Sasha Cohen won the silver at the '06 and I had forgotten about her until I saw her name. I feel like this is how I would have reacted to being reminded that Kerrigan won the silver in '94 if the incident never happened: I would have recognized her name, but I wouldn't have remembered she won the silver. And as for Harding, I wouldn't have remembered her at all as she never even placed at the Olympics. Although, if the incident never happened, the Lillehammer Olympics may have been totally different...think about it, Tonya Harding (whether or not she deserved to be there) was under a lot of pressure and scrutiny from the press (whether or not she deserved it, and believe me, we'll touch on that later) so I think the broken lace (or whatever was wrong with her skate) was an element of that and she did have added pressure that I think contributed to her crappy Lillehammer Olympic performance. Who knows? If the incident had never happened and no more pressure than usual, maybe Harding could have been the Lipinski to Kerrigan's Kwan and gotten the gold medal. Okay, that's probably unlikely since she was not a darling on the ice (or off of it!) In fact, we learn from the film that the judges' were not too keen on Tonya. But I bet she would have placed better than eighth, although she definitely would have been forgotten.

When the attack happened, I was one hundred percent certain Harding was behind it and knew about it. Now, I'm not so sure. On the one hand, why would she be so stupid to go along with this plot? Her dream is to go to the Olympics and she would have to know if she got caught (which she most likely would), then she wouldn't be able to attend. You can call Tonya Harding a lot of things, but I just can't see anyone who is serious about going to the Olympics jeopardizing by doing something like bashing in her opponent's knee. It just doesn't make sense. On the other hand, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if she knew about it beforehand. There's a scene in the movie where she's at a competition and isn't happy with her scores and skates over to the judges to demand what she has to do to improve her scoring. I have no idea whether or not this really happened and if it did, I have no idea if she actually spoke to them the way she does in the movie!

The film is very interesting and stylistic in the way it is shot and we get the POVs of both Harding (Margot Robbie who plays Tonya from ages 15-44) and her boyfriend-turned husband-turned ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) on how a certain moment occurred. For instance, Jeff tells the audience that Tonya once shot at him with a shotgun and Tonya tells the audience that never happened. There's a lot of fourth-wall breaking, mostly by Tonya, but her coach also does it during a training montage. Even with the seriousness of Tonya being in abusive relationships both with Gillooly and her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), the movie is played as a comedy, albeit a dark comedy. You feel bad for Tonya for being so abused, both verbally and physically. At one point, her mother even throws a steak knife at her and it lodges into her arm and Tonya has to pull it out. I was in the theater with about five other people (I saw it on a Wednesday afternoon, a great time if you don't want too many other people in the theater with you!) and everyone gasped at that. So while the film does a good job of making Tonya look sympathetic, I don't think she helped with her attitude towards skating. Her coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) didn't want her skating to ZZ Top and gave her suggestions of things she should do rather than what she wanted to do, but Tonya didn't listen to her. I never knew the judges didn't like Tonya because she came from "the wrong side of the tracks" and one of them even told her they judge on style as well as the performance because Tonya is wearing this horrible pink outfit she had to make herself because she couldn't afford it. Tonya was not a figure skating darling that didn't get any sponsors or had any designers who wanted to make her costumes. It is highly unfair, but I think if she had taken her coach's advice she may have won them over and then maybe she would have been able to do what she wanted, but who knows. She does fire her coach (I think this was after her poor performance at the 1992 Olympics), even throwing her ice skate at her, but does rehire her when her coach comes back to tell her that the Olympics in Lillehammer is only two years away instead of four and wants to train her to get ready.

I don't know anything about figure skating and I don't know one jump from the next, but I do have a lot of respect for anyone who does it because I know it's not easy even though they all make it look effortless. I didn't know this until I saw the movie, but Tonya Harding is known as being the first American woman to land a triple axel in a competition, which I guess is a very complicated move, so you do have to give her props for that. They do explain what it is in the movie and how when you land you're landing on a very thin part of the blade so it's hard to keep your balance. She successfully attempts this move at a U.S. competition, but botches it in Albertville, blaming it on her blades not being properly attached to her skates.

Tonya has divorced Jeff by the time the she's training for Lillehammer, but tells the audience she still needs him, which I didn't get. There's a competition she's about to skate in, but she gets a warning from a security guard that someone phoned in a death threat to her, saying if she skated, she would get a "bullet in the back" and they can't protect her so she has to back out of it. We later learn that the phone message was sent in by her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser). I have no idea why he would want to do that or if that's even true, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was because he was a bit of an odd character. Jeff gets the idea to do the same thing to Nancy Kerrigan, to call the arena she practices at in Boston and to scare her with a death threat or a bomb threat so she won't be able to practice and maybe she'll drop out of the Olympics. Well, as we all know, the plan doesn't go that way at all, in fact, it goes much worse, but not as bad as it could have been.

So I always just thought the guy who whacked her in the knee was either the ex or bodyguard, but it was actually a guy named Shane Stant. The movie has it so it's the bodyguard's idea to have him do that and the ex still thinks they're doing the scare Nancy with a phone call tactic. While Tonya does know that they were talking about that, she thinks it has been dropped and definitely doesn't know anything about physically hurting Nancy, but of course, who knows what really happens. The movie plays as a mockumentary at times and we see the major characters (Tonya, LaVerna, Jeff, Shawn and a reporter for Hard Copy played by Bobby Cannavale) all talking to the audience in the "current" day. It is amusing when they're about to get to the clubbing of Nancy's knee because they're all like, "Oh, here's the part you've all been waiting for" and keep calling it "the incident".

It happened a month before the Olympics and I say it wasn't as bad as it could have been because obviously Kerrigan went on to skate in Lillehammer and won the silver. He just gave her one good whack and left, but not before he broke the glass doors to get out because they were locked with a chain. It didn't take long for the police to catch him because they saw security footage of him moving his car every 30 minutes at the skating rink in Boston where he originally thought Nancy was (she was in Detroit when it happened) and they thought it was suspicious and tracked the car down. The entire thing is just insane! As we all know, Tonya also made it to the Olympics despite the media storm showering down upon her and the accusations that she was involved in it which she vehemently denied. I guess she threatened to sued the IOC if she was not allowed to compete and tells the audience that CBS (the network airing them that year) wanted her there for the ratings. Anyway, it's not a surprise she had such bad karma at the Games what with all that was going on. I had no idea when she was sentenced (she pleaded guilty for learning information about the attack after it happened and failing to report it to the police) that she was not allowed to compete in any more competitions. I felt that was a little harsh as she was also given community service and a fine. I just assumed she either aged out of ice skating by that time (she was only 23, so she was still pretty young) or was just ostracized by the skating community (which probably happened anyway).

One of my favorite things about the movie was the way they shot the skating scenes. It was very cinematic and exciting the way they did it; they should film all figure skating competitions this way! Although having another person skating on the ice with them with a camera might be a bit distracting! I found this clip on YouTube where the director explains how they shot the first scene of Margot Robbie (and other!) skating as Tonya at a competition the first time in the film: 

No comments:

Post a Comment