As one not generally inclined to do sports, I always find it amazing how emotive films about sports can be. I, Tonya was no exception: it was an emotive, visually arresting, all round stunning film about a sportswoman with everything against her, striking a strange note between realism and sensationalism.
Part of what made this film so startling was that the characters were, though funny, brutal and real. Producing a film about abusive relationships must involve countless hurdles, but this film gently and humorously probed the ins and outs of relationships which logic states one should undoubtedly get out of.
But all relationships deny logic, abusive ones in particular. This film showed the truth of the matter, which is that you can love your abuser, your abuser can be kind, that abusers are as multi-faceted as any other type of person.
The nuance of the portrayal of abuse comes from the fierce performances, as well as Steven Rogers’ flawless script. For me, Alison Janney stole the show with her portrayal of Tonya’s mother. She somehow manages to ruin her daughter’s life before our eyes, while being utterly hilarious, yet remains entirely real.
Janney is one of few actresses who has managed to be pigeonholed into the role ‘powerful woman’, but her performances are all unique. Perhaps this suggests that there are multiple examples of how a woman can be ‘powerful’???…
Another striking aspect of the film is the stunning visuals, and the forceful physicality of the characters. From the depiction of abuse to the figure skating, the viewer cannot help but be struck with the presence of the people on the screen.
This is aided by the documentary-style interviews which punctuate the film, allowing the audience to see each character’s inner life and their own understanding of the ‘truth’. Though the mockumentary is a frequently used style, these interviews give the film a post-modern feel, and the way the script steps out of a chronological narrative in these interviews lends the film authenticity, spontaneity and self-awareness. This is also seen in moments within the action where the characters break the fourth wall, Tonya yelling “This is bullshit, I never did this”.
What makes this film so emotive, is how utterly charming Tonya is, a bizarre mix of brutality, naiveté, and ruthless determination. While Margot Robbie as a fifteen-year-old was visually wildly un-realistic, her awkwardness and embarrassment was perfect.
This film was steeped in the reality of what it is to be a woman, what it is to be a woman in sport, and a woman in a ‘feminine’ sport. It stings when Tonya suffers by refusing to cooperate with the prettiness demanded of figure skating. Tonya is the unrelenting underdog. She is ‘white trash’, she has frizzy hair, she makes her own costumes and even her own fur coat. It is easy to root for an underdog, but in this case, it is impossible not to. She is so harsh. She is so sweet.
Another thing which makes this film so perfect is that it did not try to do too much. A monument has been made from a simple concept. The story felt well researched and passionately involved with itself. Even with the humour and the drama this was a sensitive portrayal of a hard subject. Ultimately, we see a woman who wants to be loved.
Overall, I would highly recommend this film. A final moment in praise of the soundtrack, anything including Dire Straits’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has me on my knees.