Monday, 26 March 2018
I, Tonya (5 Stars)
What a film! What a performance by Margot Robbie! The advertisements for the film describe it as a dark comedy, but it isn't really funny. If anyone laughs it's to overcome a feeling of unease in his stomach. We feel the emotional turmoil of Tonya Harding in her life, and it's amazing that Margot Robbie could portray her so well. This is the performance of her career, so far.
The film's style strengthens the narrative. It's made in a pseudo documentary format, with fake interviews interspersed with the action. This pulls us deeper into the story, letting us know the feelings of the characters.
I'm old enough to remember Tonya Harding, as probably most of my readers are. It's a story from recent history, only 25 years old. It's not usual to film a true story so soon after the events, although it's not unique. Last year's "Queen of Katwe" was filmed only 10 years after the events it portrays. I remember the controversy that surrounded her, because I lived in America while she was still a topic of interest. What the news reports of the 1990's didn't tell me was the background story to her life. That's what the film concentrates on, rather than the ice skating itself.
The skating was in total contrast to her life. When women or young girls are on the ice performing figure skating it's not just about the acrobatics of the event, it's about the image, as the film itself emphasises in its early stages. They are ice queens in magnificent clothing. If a girl doesn't express the image that's required she can never win a contest, however skilled she is. The trouble is that you need money to equip yourself for this.
Money is one thing Tonya didn't have. She had to sew her own dresses, because all the money her mother could give her had already been spent on her training and her ice skates themselves. She came from a poor family, a mother who spent most of her life as a single mother. She'd actually been married five times, but the men didn't stay long. If the mother was half as bad as she's portrayed in the film it's not surprising that they didn't want to stay.
Tonya's life was characterised by abuse. Her mother abused her. Her husband Jeff abused her. It was a cycle of abuse that she couldn't escape from. Tonya managed to get away from her mother, but it meant living with a man who was even worse. Tonya's mother only stabbed her. Her husband shot her. But she still kept returning to him. She was unable to make a new start. How could she be a queen on the ice if she was a battered woman at home?
This is the contrast shown throughout the film. As a viewer I was crying for Tonya. I wanted to take her in my arms and drag her away from her life. It's the strength of Margot Robbie's acting that made me feel emotionally for Tonya. However, I have to admit that if I'd known her at the time I could never have saved her. Abused women are addicted to their suffering. If she'd had a good man she would never have been happy with him. After being told by her mother all her life that she wasn't good enough, she needed a man to tell her the same. I could never have done that. I would have put her on a throne and told her that she was in her very essence a Queen, in every facet of her life, not just on the ice. That's not what she wanted to hear. She wanted to be told she was worthless.
I walked out of the cinema feeling numb and horrified. What had I just seen? Do families like this really exist? Evidently they do, and even big celebrities can come from such a background.