Mar 5, 2018

REVIEW: I, Tonya (dir. Gillespie)

'The casting of Robbie is not the only debt the film owes Scorsese. Directed with winking brio by Gillespie, who made Lars and the Real Girl, and told in mockumentary form, featuring multiple unreliable narrators, a cast of gotta-love-em white trash sociopaths, and a script that would bring a blush to the cheek of a sailor, the film is essentially Goodfellas on ice. And if that sounds like fun, it is, for most of the time. The script, by Steve Rogers, performs a balletic reversal of audience sympathies around the issue of class. In a sport dominated by lissom, long-limbed pixie-figures whose smiles seemed stuck in a fifties time-warp, Harding was the ugly duckling, picked on by the press as “white trash” and “old Thunder Thighs”: a hardscrabble, rough-edged scrapper with garish blue eye-shadow and home made costumes who stubbed out cigarettes on the blade of her skates, strutted out onto the ice and nailed perfect arabesques to an accompaniment of ZZ Top, hurling expletives at any judges who docked her marks for deportment. What’s not to love: a  world-class female sociopath to root for the same way we did De Niro’s wise-guys in all those Scorsese films. Robbie is slimmer and prettier than the stocky Harding  — she’s a swan playing a duckling — but she digs in and gets something of her fierce survival instincts. A street fighter raised in  trailer home in Portland, Oregon, by her viper of a mother LaVona (Allison Janney), Harding is pushed onto the ice aged three, while mom sits on the sidelines, sucking down whiskey and swearing like a tevedore. “You skate like a graceless bull dyke!” LaVona screams, and later, at competitive events, slips twenties to spectators to do the screaming for her, to sharpen her daughter’s  edge. It’s a phenomenal turn by Janney, an exultant, extended riff  on her chain-smoking pageant mom in Drop Dead Gorgeous, without vanity, redeeming virtue or apology, and horribly funny. The bluntness of La Vona’s cruelty jolts you into shocked laughter, despite yourself. Refusing to give her daughter a bathroom break, forcing her to pee herself, LaVona barks,  “skate wet!” — from my Sunday Times review


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