From Terry Hall@21:1/5 to All on Wed Jul 18 00:01:02 2018
[continued from previous message]
is perfect down to the last hair.
Allison Janney nails Tonya's mother LaVona to a T, and thoroughly
deserves her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Much of the abuse she
hurls at wee Tonya (who is well-played by Mckenna Grace)
accurately mirrors what has been confirmed by independent
witnesses. Yes, LaVona really did tell Tonya "that girl is your
enemy", force her to "skate wet", and beat her with a hairbrush.
And Tonya has a scar to prove the knife incident. Julianne
Nicholson, bedecked with a blonde wig, nicely captures Tonya's
prim and proper coach Diane Rawlinson, though oddly, the real
Diane Rawlinson was actually better-looking - usually it's the
other way around in movies.
As by now you're well aware, the film starts with Margot, made up
to look like an older Tonya, being interviewed in the present day
for a "Price of Gold"-type documentary, along with Jeff, LaVona,
Shawn, Diane and a fictional tabloid journalist called Martin
Maddox (played with suitable oily charm by Bobby Cannavale), all
of whom reflect on Tonya's life in flashback. Needless to say,
they agree on very little as being the "truth".
Personally I found this "meta" approach to be a bit gimmicky,
with it having been used in other recent films like "Casting
JonBenet" and "Kate Plays Christine". As hard-core Tonyaphiles
will know, it's also been used with the Tonya story itself in the
earlier TV movie "Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story" in 1994, which
also featured a "he said/she said" approach, characters breaking
the fourth wall and interviews with fake journalists. Another
film from that same period, "The Positively True Adventures Of
The Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom" (1993) also used
fake interviews with the protagonist. Apparently there were even
more of these in the script, but it's unclear how many were
filmed and then ditched. It might appear innovative to critics
and audiences with short memories, but credit must go to these
earlier films for using these ideas first.
In terms of accuracy, I would say that in general terms it's
largely accurate - but it shouldn't be mistaken for a
documentary. It's quite upfront about the fact it's based on
unreliable, contradictory sources and often introduces deliberate
errors to exaggerate this, such as scenes that never happened,
e.g. the scene where Tonya tells a skating judge to do something
anatomically impossible. The film also deliberately plays with
time to heighten this sense of ambiguity, such as bogus dates on
security camera videos and the broken clock behind the "Hard
Copy" guy. Further examples of this are the fact that Tonya won
her 1994 title on the 8th, not 7th of January, she reunited with
Jeff back around mid '93, not for a few weeks as stated, and the
Olympic Committee decided on Lillehammer as the location for the
1994 Winter Games in 1988, not after the Albertville Games, as is
implied here. Other "alternative facts" I've noticed:
- the real Tonya didn't skate to ZZ Top until the 90/91 season as
far as I can tell - she was still skating to classical music in
1986. And vocals weren't allowed in skating music until recently;
- real Tonya didn't say "suck my d__k" to a skating judge - even
she wasn't that much of a badass. But apparently the real Tonya
enjoyed that sequence, so if it's okay for her, it's okay for me;
- her split with Diane was amicable; it was she who suggested
Tonya move to Dody Teachman, not Tonya;
Again, it's an unnecessary gimmick approach. Unlike other films
which mess with the truth, however (Oliver Stone's "JFK", for
instance), it is at least honest about what it's doing.
One further factual criticism: there is too much swearing,
particularly from Tonya. With an estimated 123 f-words (and
numerous other profanities) it actually has over double that of
the legendarily potty-mouthed hockey classic "Slap Shot" (1977)
which only had 61, making it probably the most foul-mouthed movie
on skates - and certainly the only R-rated movie about figure
skating. While as there's plenty of independent eye-witness
evidence that LaVona had a mouth like a sewer, the real Tonya
doesn't swear that much, according to people who know her well.
Scriptwriter Steven Rogers has to take most of the blame for
this, as well as Margot improvising. The film seems like a
middle-class gay man's idea of how to depict someone as "white
trash" - have them use the f-word constantly, and it makes Tonya
look unnecessarily vulgar. A better writer would have found a
more subtle way. LaVona's swearing is more than enough to get the
desired R rating, if that was the intention.
The first half of the film mainly deals with Tonya's turbulent
relationship with Jeff - thankfully it mostly goes with Tonya's
version of things here - and her increasingly strained
relationship with the skating establishment, who dislike her
inability (or unwillingness) to conform to their antiquated 1950s
Stepford-wife vision of what a ladies figure skating champion
should be. There's no mention of Elaine Stamm's fan club. And I'm
bitterly disappointed that we don't get to see Margot re-enact
the Wedding Night Video.
Obviously a key measure of success for any biopic about Tonya has
to be its depiction of her skating. And here I'm pleased to say
that "I, Tonya" delivers by the truckload. The key skating scenes
in Tonya's career - including her 1991 Nationals triple axel and
two Olympic Games - are all recreated with great precision,
mostly by Margot herself, with stunt doubles and CGI only being
employed for the most difficult stuff like spins and jumps. Craig
Gillespie's decision to go for the full 2.35:1 widescreen aspect
ratio really pays dividends here.
The skating sequences are exciting and dynamic, thanks to a
Steadicam operator who could skate and follow Margot around on
the ice. It's also benefited from advances in CGI that mean the
director no longer has to disguise the use of stunt doubles with
spotlights or arty music video-type editing, as was the case in
earlier skating movies like "The Cutting Edge" or the 1994
Tonya/Nancy TV movie. I don't see the problems with the FX that
some people have complained of, despite having viewed it several
times at 4K resolution on a big cinema screen. I suspect that
many of those complaining have become so used to seeing the fake-
looking effects of too many superhero movies that they can no
longer tell what's real anymore.
The Triple Axel scene in particular is the highlight of the movie
for any Tonyaphile, being done twice, once in real time and then
again lovingly in slow motion to Joanie Summers' "Little Girl
Bad". Finally, Tonya realizes that she's not the loser she's been
told she was by so many people in her life.
Apparently the filmmakers seem to be unaware of the real reason
why Tonya bombed in Albertville - not excessive boozing and
pool-playing as shown, but rather the USFSA holding her back for
medical tests, resulting in her arriving late and jet-lagged.
Only two other quibbles: Most of Tonya's practice was actually at
mall rinks, rather than at dedicated skating facilities, but
puzzlingly, a mall rink is only shown once. This is important as
it emphasizes Tonya's poverty - she couldn't afford private ice-
time. Also, unfortunately the Batman & Jurassic Park themes are
substituted with generic music, presumably because of clearance
issues, but we do get ZZ Top's "Sleeping Bag" & LaTour's "People
Are Still Having Sex". And let's face it, a Tonya movie without
"People Are Still Having Sex" is like a Vietnam War movie without
a track by The Doors or Jefferson Airplane - kind of missing
About halfway through, we get to The Whack, or as Margot calls it
"the f-ing incident". Here, regrettably, it mostly goes with
Jeff's version - though his claim that it was originally a plot
to just send Nancy threatening letters and it was Shawn's
decision to escalate the whole thing into physical violence
behind his back is ridiculous, and contradicts everything he said
at the time. This is at least his fourth version of events he's
come out with over the years and yet another reason to distrust
anything he says about Tonya. As the Maddox character points out,
why do you need training times if you're just mailing letters?
Here, however, is where Paul Walter Hauser comes into his own: I
think the only reason this guy was actually conceived was so that
one day he could play Shawn Eckardt, and in my view, he should
have also got a Best Supporting Actor nom as well. In a
subsequent interview he mentioned that he tracked down Eugene
Saunders, the church minister whom the real Shawn revealed his
plan to, as part of his research. The New Year's Eve practice
scene where he brags about his "two top operatives" and "balls in
motion" and "shit to fry" is hilarious, even if it never happened
that way. In any case, it's suggested that although Tonya was
aware of the death-threat plot, she viewed it as just another one
of Shawn's fantastic schemes with no chance of ever coming to
There are many subtle touches here, which often only become
noticeable on subsequent viewings, e.g. Shawn asking his mother
if they've got any shortbread for the FBI agents, one of whom is
black. Eckardt is so white, he doesn't know many real black
people and thinks they all eat shortnin' bread and watermelons.
He and Jeff meet at a bar where the stripper is fat, with saggy
boobs. These guys are such losers, they can't even afford decent
Shawn's "hit team" are also suitably buffoonish, pumping
themselves up to Laura Branigan's "Gloria" as they drive to the
rink, one of the film's nice comic touches. In terms of the
clubbing itself, I have to admit that the recreation of this
could have been better done, particularly given that this is the
"money shot" of the whole film. For a start, Ricky Russert is
badly miscast as Shane Stant, who was actually of part Hawaiian
heritage and looks nothing like him. Is this political
correctness run amuck, in that they don't want the hit man to
look black? It seems hard to see what other reason there is for
this miscasting given the attention to detail elsewhere. Caitlyn
Carver doesn't really look much like Nancy either, but she's only
on screen for a few minutes so it doesn't really matter. The real
Cobo arena was in an urban area, not semi-rural as shown, and had
alot more snow around, but hey, that's what happens when you film
in Georgia for tax reasons. Stant actually head-butted the
Plexiglas panel out of the door, and didn't smash any glass. And
where the heck is Gene Samuels and his video camera, who captured
the footage of Nancy wailing? Still, Peter Nashel's creepy score
and Tatiana Riegel's editing adds atmosphere to the scene, as we
feel Stant's tension as he psychs himself up to do the dirty
The post-Whack media circus nicely captures the hell that Tonya
was put through. Her truck really was towed, though from outside
the mall rink, not her house. LaVona really did wear a wire to
try and entrap her. Tonya's apology for not owning up sooner is
recreated virtually word for word. As "old" Tonya puts it in her
interview, "I thought being famous was gonna be fun. I was loved
for a minute. Then I was hated. Then I was just a punchline. It
was like being abused all over again. Only this time it was by
you. All of you. You're all my attackers too."
Which reminds me: you know what's missing from the movie? It
needs a Tarantinoesque-type scene in which a smug, self-righteous
sportswriter - not thinking of anyone in particular here - gets
brutally clubbed to death with a baseball bat to the music of
some long-forgotten mid-1970s one-hit-wonder like "Ma, He's
Making Eyes At Me" by Lena Zavaroni. Okay, it never happened, but
like the "suck my d--k" scene which never happened either, it
would be very, very satisfying.
Eventually we get to Norway. The whole broken shoelace meltdown
is very accurately recreated, even down to Scott Hamilton's
commentary, which is recited virtually word for word. Apparently
this was researched from Japanese HDTV footage that was found
online that captured dialog not picked up by the American network
feeds. We see the culmination of twenty years of hard work going
down the gurgler in front of millions of TV viewers as Tonya's
skating dreams come to a catastrophic end.
But there's worse to come. Back in Portland, Tonya pleads guilty
to hindering the prosecution. Here we have more embellishment:
the plea bargain actually only required Tonya to resign from the
USFSA - it was the latter organization that imposed the life ban.
Her tearful courtroom speech to Judge Londer never happened -
Tonya just said "I'm sorry I interfered" - but the movie version
helps to hammer home the extent of Tonya's loss: her one source
of stability, her skating, is now gone too. And the truth is the
media were actually long gone from outside Jeff's house (Tonya
had moved out several weeks earlier) by the time of OJ's Bronco
chase. Once it became obvious there would be no trial, they had
already moved on.
The film ends with a montage of Tonya's short-lived boxing career
- Tonya reasons that since her life often includes getting beaten
up, she might as well at least get paid for it. It's suitably
bloody, and painful to watch. The original script had a happier
ending, but we all knew that a happy ending to this saga just
wouldn't ring true. Doris Day's "Dream A Little Dream", which is
also used during Tonya & Jeff's wedding reception earlier on,
plays in the background of this violence. It's an old trick,
resembling the sequence in "Good Morning Vietnam" where "It's a
Wonderful World" plays over scenes of villages being napalmed -
but it works.
On the topic of the soundtrack music: some people have complained
about the amount of "needle drops" of pop music sprinkled
throughout the film, which they see as excessive, overused or era-inappropriate, given it's mostly from the 70's. However, as
has been pointed out, this was the time when Tonya grew up, so
she would have been influenced by music like this. Craig
Gillespie manages the seemingly impossible - making 1970s-era
Cliff Richard sound cool (and by the way, the "Devil Woman"
refers to baby Tonya, not LaVona, as "she gets (Diane) from
behind"). Personally I would have gone with "My Way" by Sid
Vicious, and maybe some E.L.O. and New York Dolls, but any movie
that uses Siouxsie and the Banshees over the end credits scores
serious points in my book.
The end credits have the nice touch of playing the real Tonya's
1991 nationals 3 axel routine, plus clips of the real Jeff,
LaVona (from Sandra Luckow's "Sharp Edges") and Shawn (which
reveals he really was as deluded as portrayed). We've seen all
these clips before, but most of the public haven't. Mention
should also be made of Peter Nashel's three classical pieces that
were specially composed for the film; "A Fair Shot", "The
Incident", and "Tonya Suite", the latter which is also played
over the credit sequence.
To summarize: Margot, Sebastian, Allison, Paul, Craig, Steven &
their team have provided a well-crafted and stylish addition to
the Tonya legend. Margot depicts Tonya as a cool, sexy badass, "a
rebel without applause", which is what we've all known she was.
Steven Rogers, formerly consigned to Hollywood's scrap-heap as a
has-been writer of the now unfashionable rom-com genre, has
successfully rebooted his career with this one. His script may be
a bit too clever, and a bit too profane, but it does contain
memorable dialog - "retarded tooth fairy", "soft four", and the "gardener/flower" scene - that will stick in the memory for many
years to come. And overall it does Tonya justice, even if we
would have preferred it to ignore Jeff's side of things. Craig
Gillespie, who prior to this was generally viewed as a journeyman
director best known for making a quirky comedy about a guy and a
sex doll, completely redefines his reputation here, directing
with style and flair - "Goodfellas" of figure skating is right!
Thematically, it ticks all the right boxes: the classism &
elitism of the snooty figure skating establishment;
tabloidization of the media with its fake news and alternative
facts; bullying and toxic masculinity (currently in the spotlight
thanks to the #MeToo movement) and a realization that the system
is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful - all subjects that
are resonating more than ever today. As a result, it's a Tonya
movie for our times.
To be sure, it's not perfect, and could have benefitted if the
filmmakers had filmed in Portland (which apparently was
considered), and chosen to interact with the Tonyaphile community
more to get it more accurate. And a bigger budget would always be
welcome. But we don't live in a perfect world, and "I, Tonya" is
certainly far better than what we could have ended up with.
Regardless of its limitations, it has one big thing going for it:
it's changing people's minds about Tonya. It's as if someone has
given us a free, 11 million dollar, 2-hour advertisement for
Tonya, starring the chick from Suicide Squad and the guy from
Winter Soldier and helmed by one of the world's top commercial
directors. And it hasn't cost us a dime! It might not be
everything we want, but it's doing its job as a piece of pro-
Tonya propanganda, and for me that's what really counts. It's
already got Tonya on Dancing With The Stars.
For these reasons, I think it deserves a solid 5.8 out of 6.0.
And that's the f-ing truth.
TONYAS FOR SALE
As The Beatles once sang, you "Can't Buy Me Love". But you can
buy a Tonya.
Listen - Do You Want To Know A Secret? There's a guy with a Tonya
for sale in Santa Monica:
In fact, two Tonyas. Okay, they're not actually real, only
cardboard, and they're just Margot pretending to be Tonya, but
they're very lifelike - indeed, when I Saw Her Standing There, my
immediate reaction was I Wanna Hold Your Hand. And at 30 bucks
each, it's enough to make any Tonyaphile want to Twist & Shout.
But I suspect that at that price they won't last long, so you'd
better act fast or else You're Gonna Lose That Girl!
As the seller points out, they're rather large - so you might
need some "Help!" getting them home down The Long & Winding Road.
However, I'm sure that in the end, We Can Work It Out.
NOTE: there is an urban legend going around that there is a
picture of the real Tonya underneath the Margot picture that can
be revealed by peeling off the top Margot picture. DO NOT ATTEMPT
TO DO THIS! It is a myth - there is no other picture hidden
underneath and you will just end up butchering your Tonya!
And you might want a Butcher Cover, but the last thing anybody
would want is a Butchered Tonya...
VISIT THESE GREAT TONYA WEB SITES: