I, Tonya

I, Tonya ★★★★★

On my 8th viewing (i know) I think I can finally explain why I love this movie so much.

This movie is an incredible portrait of American celebrity, classism, the media's treatment of women, love, and abuse, centered entirely around a well-known, well-hated figure. It gives you plenty of reasons to sympathize for this figure, but it doesn't try and exonerate her of her terrible personality or tell you she's a good person.

I've heard many takes that the film tries to lionize Tonya, but I think it's extremely critical of her and goes through great lengths to highlight how often she says something supposedly wasn't her fault. She refuses to accept blame for anything. Tonya's talking heads alone paint a picture of a very (heavy sigh) Trump-like figure, who speaks in the same patterns as he does and even thinks of herself as someone who is unjustly beset by somebody else's collusion on her behalf. She's unrepentant, obsessed with her public adoration, and demands that even when she's not doing her best, she deserves credit for how she's not doing her best. (I hate how perfectly the Trump analogy works here but it's extremely fitting– especially since Harding 'would've voted for Trump' if she could've. Gag me.)

I've also heard takes about Nancy Kerrigan being unfairly sidelined as comic relief, but that take suggests that Nancy should've been a bigger part of the story, which I disagree with! If Nancy's a larger part of the story, the story becomes entirely about the incident. Which it isn't. The incident is just a lynchpin in a greater story about the abuse Tonya Harding endured from the people who were meant to love her, the classism attached to her public image, her deep attachment to skating as something she loved and as something that gave her the love she so desperately needed, and how strongly the post-incident fallout affected her.

Make no mistake, more than anything this is a movie about abuse, from all sides– even down to the agents who give her FBI transcripts to her abuser and the cop that leaves her in the car with him. It's no mistake that the only characters in this movie that don't hurt Tonya in some way are the ones who train her in the sport that makes her feel loved. I've always been so transfixed by Gilooly's character in this film, who is still portrayed as lovely and romantic in scenes with Tonya well after we've seen his horrible pattern of abuse. (e.g. the "Oh Mys" scene) It's almost disturbing to see a scene that would be considered heartwarming without the context of who he is, but that's the point. That's what abusers are like. That's how their victims see them, and that's how the world sees them when they're hiding their true selves. Gillespie also does a great job of removing any easy excuses for Jeff's abuse by showing a disparity in how he acts when he’s mad with Shawn over something big vs. how he acts when he’s mad with Tonya over something small. And what is Jeff's "punishment" for his place in all this? He's verbed into a cultural touchstone, turned into a celebrity by the media, and paid to comment on the Olympic games– by the same news figures that were coming up with ways to harass Tonya for scoops.

It's always been so curious to me that a movie so clearly about abuse and its effects didn't get recognized as such right as the MeToo movement was in full swing, but I gotta blame that on whatever fuckhead studio execs decided that the way to market this movie was as an "uproarious black comedy." Like, Christ. It's funny, but it's much moreso depressing.

A simpler explanation for why I like this movie: every single scene is good! I like EVERY SINGLE SCENE!!

Other stray notes I took on my 8th (I KNOW) viewing:

• I had very very little knowledge of the Harding/Kerrigan incident before the movie, but it was very interesting to watch this with a New Zealander who had no prior knowledge at all of the Harding/Kerrigan incident!
• LaVona wanting to see Tonya's face as she finisher her routine is such a great moment. She's taking credit for Tonya's smile. It's the closest thing LaVona has resembling pride, and therefore the closest thing she has resembling love.
• Every time I watch this movie a completely new part makes me very emotional, and this time it was the beaming smile we see on 4-year-old Tonya's face in the beginning when she skates for the first time. Knowing how much that joy's gonna come crashing down is so fucking heartbreaking.
• Why spring the money for Bobby Cannavale when you're not even gonna use him for any scenes outside of office talking heads?
• There's a title card that says "12 Months Later"
• This is my favorite sports movie and my favorite biopic!!!

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