Director: Craig Gillespie.
Craig Gillespie, best known for directing Lars and the Real Girl, a dramatic tale written by Steven Rogers, who got inspiration to tell the true story of Figure Skating’s most controversial incident in it’s history from watching a documentary on the sport. And what makes this film so intriguing and equally entertaining to a comical degree is the contradictory accounts from some of the people involved and the narrative structure of how the story is told.
It’s a biopic of Tonya Harding, who was famous for being one of the most incredibly talented figure skater in world and unfortunately, now more infamously know for the 1994 incident where rival competitor, Nancy Kerrigan was purposefully injured one day prior to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, putting her out of the competition and ultimately stopping her from defending her ‘93 Ladies Champion title; the title Harding took that year.
What is so brilliant about the way this story is told, is that, whilst quite brutal and bitter, it’s not done to excuse her actions but rather to understand the person and possibly the reasons as to why, possibly drawing a direct connection from her childhood to ‘the incident’ summarising her entire life in between. There’s no judgement or blame here; it just tells the story from a number of angles and allows the audience to take away what thoughts and emotions they get at the time.
The structure and style is amazing with the story interwoven with different aspect ratio, mockumentary style interviews with the characters that often conflict with one another and the dramatised story; with characters often breaking that 4th wall in argument that’s both genius and entertaining. The story isn’t suppose to be outrightly funny but these little touches are very pleasing and does well to keep a good balance with the darker side of Tonya’s story.
Though some of the story is fictionalised to a degree, such as the mother and much of the script it actually portrays a sad story behind Ice Skating’s most notorious triple axel, that also paints a bleak picture of the class division and questions the morality of these sports score marked by judges. If the ice skate doesn’t fit.
Robbie is incredible and completely captivating throughout playing the tough and rough Tonya Harding. Robbie trained hard for four months and met the real life Harding prior to filming. She performed most of her skating apart from the famed triple axle jump, which has to be credited to the visual effects team; as during the time of filming, there were only 6 people in the world capable of performing the triple axel, all of which would have been training for the Olympics.
Marvel’s Sebastian Stan plays her high school sweetheart, abusive husband and conspirator, Jeff Gillooly, brilliantly, giving a convincing and entirely different performance from his Winter Soldier suit. Paul Walker Hauser provides much of the comedy as being the over confident, balmy self proclaimed bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt who is almost a parody to himself.
But it’s Alison Janney that steals the screen as Harding’s obnoxious, and completely unsympathetic mother. Unlike Harding and he husband Gillooly, the real life LaVona Golden wasn’t available to interview so her part was written by Rogers with Janney in mind, one of the first of many parts he has written for her to actually get given to her; and what a performance and undoubtedly a well deserved Oscar win for best supporting actress.
As for the figure skating scenes, it’s superbly choreographed with credit to Robbie’s trainer Sarah Kawahara who has precious won two Emmy awards for her ice skating choreography, one being for the 2002 Winter Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. The wardrobe is perfectly fitting, baring some embarrassing fashion choices of the era.
It’s difficult to remember Peter Nashel’s seemingly small score as it’s overpowered by its accompanying soundtrack with recognisable smash hits from the era; tracks like Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, Heart’s “Barracuda” and Laura Branigan’s “Gloria”. Nashel’s score does a great job but sadly the film’s heavy soundtrack to begin with makes it feel unbalanced and is possibly too much, like they were trying to squeeze as many songs in as possible.
Overall, this is a superbly crafted film that’s cleverly choreographed together that’s both captivating and entertaining whether you’re a fan of figure skating or not. Worth seeing just for the performances if not for the subject matter.
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 10
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for Janney and not Robbie. Robbie was naturally brilliant, but Janney was outstanding.