I, Tonya: Movie Man Jackson

Why can’t it be just about the skating? If it were only about the skating, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) would probably end up as the best figure skater to ever do it. At the age of four she embarked on this career path, driven by her overbearing mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney). The talent is evident from the first time she shows her skills in an older age group. Eventually, she becomes the first woman to land a triple axel.

If it were only about the skating, Tonya’s story would be a happy one. But exposed to the constant abuse from LaVona and her first love Jeff (Sebastian Stan), the volatility of her situation places her down a tragic path of darkness, culminating with “the incident” against competitor Nancy Kerrigan that would come to define her life.

Sure, the world may have gotten the great ESPN 30 for 30 in The Price of Gold, but it is kind of surprising that it took almost a quarter-century for the infamous Tonya Harding incident to be captured onto the silver screen. Jordan years (that’s 23 for the non-sports fans out there) later, I, Tonya officially arrives in the awards season and winds up standing as very, very surprising film.

Sometimes tone and approach can be the most important factors as it pertains to how well a movie’s story is told and whether it resonates or not. Massive kudos must be given to director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours, Fright Night 2011), writer/producer Steven Rogers, producers Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, Bryan Unkeless, and even Tonya Harding herself who serves as a consultant for the movie for nailing these two components. There’s an alternate universe where I, Tonya is super dry and told with a straight face. That recipe is likely a forgettable view.

Why? Because the preposterous life story of Tonya Harding—from 4 years old on to her celebrity boxing stint—is too unbelievable not to chuckle or even laugh hard at; it might as well be a fiction except it actually happened. The Office-like format in storytelling takes a little while to find a groove, and the fourth-wall breaking isn’t always smoothly deployed, but necessary to seeing how the main characters’ recollection of the events are not the same. However, using this method allows a more emotionally-affecting look into Ms. Harding herself. Seriously, I Tonya goes there to those dark, icy, and uncomfortable places. Gillespie and company do the right thing in straying away from painting Tonya as a complete victim, but rather, examining how one, even with immense talent, is rather hopeless to beat a self-fulfilling prophecy without a stable environment.

Some biographies—especially around awards season—are rather tepid, absent of any spirit or excitement. Not, I, Tonya. The characters, from major to minor, pop off the screen. A mid-80’s to early 90’s soundtrack envelopes the screen with electricity. Gillespie’s skating scenes are some of the more breathtaking sequences of the entire year, filmed with grace and elegance.This is never a dull watch.

The energy is obviously carried into the performances as well. As mentioned, even the bit players in Julianne Nicholson, McKenna Grace, Bobby Cannavale, and Paul Walter Hauser (a real scene-stealer midway through as Tonya’s bodyguard) make their imprint on the feature. But this film is anchored by its superstar trifecta in Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney. Robbie is firmly a superstar who raises anything she’s in at this point, and her work as the troubled figure skater is her career-best, deftly switching between sadness, anger, and dark humor and remaining a character and not a caricature despite some embellishment. A moment midway through where Robbie asks a judge about what exactly they have against her and why it is not solely about skating is gut-wrenching.

Stan, who ironically was in a vastly movie with clear parallels to Tonya Harding in The Bronze, continues to cement himself as more than the Winter Soldier, and here’s to hoping his Marvel future doesn’t prevent him from doing more work like this. Janney is unrecognizable in her turn portraying Harding’s mother, ruthless, brow-beating, and foul-mouthed and the center of her daughter’s troubles and issues. Undoubtedly one of the definitive standout performances the 2017 calendar year.

What is truth? Jumbled, because everyone has their own version of it, according to the movie. But the truth is that with damn near flawless execution, a ton of energy, and top-notch performances, I, Tonya stands out as one of the more memorable biopics in recent memory.

A-

Photo credits go to vulture.com, usmagazine.com, teaser-trailer.com, and variety.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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The Girl on the Train: Movie Man Jackson

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I’ll stick with taking the A train. Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) has lost everything. Her marriage, home, and career are all gone as a result of her drinking problem. Her former husband Tom (Justin Theroux) has moved in the woman he cheated on Rachel with, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and they have a newborn. The only enjoyment she gets out of life these days is when she’s riding on the train, drawing pictures and visualizing a perfect life through voyeuristic eyes of a married couple, Meghan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans). Coincidentally, they live right down the street from Tom and Anna.

That perfect dream life dissolves when Rachel sees something that suggests infidelity. She takes it upon herself to inform Scott, who has his reservations about taking a stranger’s word for fact, but acknowledging that a psychiatrist his wife has been seeing could be the other man. The matter of possible infidelity becomes even more serious when Meghan goes missing, with nary a lead—except for Rachel waking up with gashes and a noticeable amount of blood. Surveillance and witness account put Rachel in the neighborhood hours before Meghan was last seen. And so questions are raised: Did Rachel actually see infidelity occur? More importantly, could she, in a drunken stupor, have more to do with this disappearance then she believes?

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Yours truly had an awfully tough time writing the opening summary to The Girl on the Train, the silver screen adaptation to one of 2015’s most popular novels. And I don’t believe I did a good job in doing so. Some books are simply difficult to carry over into big screen success, and I believe that is where most of the problems of The Girl on the Train arise from.

Let me explain. The great thing about novels is the fact that chapters, entire sections, etc., can be chunked out, separated, and given the requisite time needed to learn and know the characters, the background, the relative timeline, and how each person fits into the proceedings. This can be done in movies as well, but the trouble is that so much of the novel’s information has to be condensed to fit time, and in the case of The Girl on the Train, it feels like there’s a lot of information that isn’t delivered in a way that makes narrative sense.

From the first line of spoken dialogue, director Tate Taylor’s (The Help, Get on Up) feature just seems a little off, getting extending openings for each lead female character without, aside from maybe Rachel, really understanding them. The pace truly does meander for the first half, whether moving straightforward in its storytelling, or backwards and then forwards. As a whole, the execution in storytelling is lacking, with flashbacks being used generously but without focus. It is difficult to ascertain when they end and when events are unfolding in current time. Even the visual style and technical aspects come off as a little cheap and something one could see on Lifetime, despite the starpower attached and the fairly sizable budget.

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The story does find its groove somewhat in the 3rd act (as flashbacks become minimized), but unfortunately, it is a little too late to care about the payoffs by that point. No favors are done either with a twist that is pretty obvious about halfway through with a certain line of dialogue, which is saying something because I’m usually terrible with predicting those types of things. Overall, The Girl on the Train is very cold, darn near impossible to get invested into any one character.

The character that comes closest to evoking a emotional response is Rachel, played greatly by Emily Blunt. She’s been on the up and up for a while now, and roles in movies like Edge of Tomorrow and Sicario have proven her to be a scene-stealer capable of owning a feature. Her character is not the most well-written, and her arc is sort of rushed, but Blunt has a presence that is impossible to take eyes off of. As for everyone else, though there are no true bad performances, characterizations are so light (whore, womanizer, devoted mother, hard-nosed cop) that those in the roles have no real opportunity to do anything with them.

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Seemingly destined to be the next great film based on a wildly popular adult novel, The Girl on the Train gets derailed with lackluster directing and a slow moving story that struggles to flow. All aboard the D train.

D+

Photo credits go to collider.com and thefrisky.com.

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