The Greatest Sports Drama Since
Scorsese’s RAGING BULL
I, Tonya: Not only the most exciting and exhilarating film of 2017, but I'm gonna go one step further and say it's the greatest sports drama/bio-pic since Scorsese and DeNiro teamed up for Raging Bull back in 1980.
Don't get me wrong: the films are plenty different.
Raging Bull is a 3-hour, black and white, slow burning, melodrama about an Italian-American boxer whose obsessive rage, sexual jealousy and animalistic, violent behavior destroys his marriage and family.
I, Tonya is an in-your-face, thrill-a-minute, sometimes-sexy, dramady about a trashy, redneck girl who battled and clawed her way to the top of the women's figure skating circuit.
BUT...both films have a hell-of-a-lot in common. They are both bio-pics about athletes with similar, self-destructive traits. Boxer, Jake LaMottta and Olympiad, Tonya Harding were both brutal, brute-force competitors who slugged and skated beyond all reasonable odds, both politically and socially, to climb to the top of their professions, only to be derailed by forces both internal and external.
Quick recap on I, Tonya: Tonya Harding was a dirt-poor kid growing up in rural Oregon/Portland, shooting squirrels and breathing her mom's second-hand smoke for most of her childhood. She could have easily gotten knocked up, had kids, married and slipped into anonymity forever....
But somehow, through the cruel pressure of her mother and by her own true-grit, Tonya Harding managed to figure-skate herself all the way to the Olympics. In fact, Tonya Harding became the first American woman to EVER attempt and complete a triple axel during an official competition.
Then in 1994 Harding's ex-husband and his moron buddies plotted to attack and injure her main competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. They hit her in the knees with a blunt instrument and forced Kerrigan out of the national championship at the time. Tonya Harding's life and legacy instantly became tainted, and she was eventually, banned from figure skating forever.
Margot Robbie (who also produced) stars as Harding. And it's no surprise that Robbie got her big break working with Scorsese on Wolf of Wall Street because her performance and the direction of the film (by Craig Gillespie) are very Scorsese-like. One reviewer aptly described it at as "the Goodfellas of figure skating". And I couldn't agree more. Watching I, Tonya in the theater was a bit like being tied to a chair and slapped around for 120 minutes by a mob of gangsters.
Robbie and Gillespie definitely, definitely did their homework and made I, Tonya a tribute to a master in Martin Scorsese.
But actually I found I, Tonya to have a deeper layer that I think critics and audiences overlooked. Beneath the noise and clamor of high-impact film making, I found I, Tonya to be a tragedy. I genuinely found this to be a heartbreaking story about wasted potential and lost opportunity.
Here is Harding, this underdog, this athlete who everyone dismissed and counted out, but somehow, someway she made herself one of the best in the world at something! But she just could not escape her own demons and the demons of those around her. All that hard work, only to be undone by a few bad decisions (again, like Raging Bull).
And I can't say enough for the films' two female lead performances. Robbie and Allison Janney are Oscar Worthy. Janney is so convincingly awful as Harding's mom, you really hate her by the time the credits role.
And the script is top, top notch and should certainly be nominated for an Oscar as it is easily as good or better than a few of the nominees I can think of...but Oscars aren't everything.
Getting the movie made is most important and having people see it is second.
It wasn't nominated for Best Picture because this film is an underdog. It's not only a tale of an underdog and a contentious public figure (Harding), but it is an underdog as a whole Hollywood package. It’s a story about a white trash, redneck. And white people just aren’t very popular in Hollywood right now. The cast is not diverse at all. There is no LGBTQ angle. There's no funny gay friend. And there’s no anti-cop, anti-establishment slant. It's just a great film about a tremendously bizarre, real-life sports drama. It's a cool story and a great film and I'm glad some brilliant people decided to tackle it.
Go see the movie!
More reviews to come. Until then: Save the Drama 4 Your Mama.