Tag Archives: Olympic Games

I, Tonya (2017)

6 Jan

There are competitive athletes. There are olympic athletes. And then there is Tonya Harding. The infamous American figure skater (played brilliantly by Margot Robbie) gets her own story in Craig Gillespie‘s explosive new film. Based on true events, the film follows Tonya as she first learns to skate and quickly becomes a project of sorts for her neglectful mother LaVona (Allison Janney) and coach Diane (Julianne Nicholson). Shown with a real talent for moving on the ice, Tonya quickly moves up the ranks of early figure skaters – despite her aversion to “play the part” of a skating champion and dress or act like someone she is not. Eventually, Tonya falls in love with her abusive neighbor Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and the two quickly form a toxic, codependent relationship with one another.  This is where the film really kicks into high gear, and we see the couple spiral out control with drugs, booze, money – and eventually – federal crime.

I Tonya is delivered to us in a pseudo-documentary format with characters looking into the 90’s era VHS camcorder reliving certain events, as if they are testifying to authorities exactly how the story of Tonya went down. It’s a refreshingly Brechtian approach to the true-sports-story model, but at times it feels too jarring and uncomfortable. As if the docu-VHS bits weren’t enough –  in the dramatic scenes we occasionally see characters break the fourth wall and directly address the audience, ala House of Cards style.

This film is so loud (it’s no stretch of the mind to imagine every word of dialogue in Steven Roger’s script being in all caps) and constantly trying to outdo itself. I, Tonya seems to take place in a universe where its characters can’t go 5 minutes without throwing expletives (or sometimes sharp objects) at each other; characters on screen seem so bombastic and dramatic that after a while they begin to feel less like real people and more like characictures. You can’t help but wonder what this story would be had it been written with a bit more character nuance.

One of the great strengths of the film comes with it’s clever use of absurdist comedy. I, Tonya is painfully funny and even the dullest bits of melodrama get sewn in with a clever joke or two.  Compellingly crafted, the film seems designed to appeal directly to the ADD, short-attention-span viewer, and the ferocious editing job keeps the entire thing from spinning off the wheels. Again, I would have appreciated a bit more restraint with the storytelling, but the narrative never becomes dull or disinteresting; somehow the 2 hour runtime feels like minutes. Perhaps I, Tonya deserves some kind of medal for that.

Bottom Line: With an overdose of teenage vitriol, I, Tonya is a firecracker examination of class division and a metaphorical middle-finger towards the cultural ideal of American celebrity.

Rating: 6.9/10 

Film Recipe: Bernie + The Big Short + The Bronze

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Eddie The Eagle (2016 Sundance review)

3 Mar

The “secret screening” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was a biopic about Michael Edwards, the famous British ski-jumper who earned the moniker “Eddie the Eagle“.  Young Michael (Taron Egerton) had always dreamt of becoming an Olympian, even when doctors discouraged any kind of competitive sports at an early age due to leg braces.  As Michael grew, the dangerous sport of ski-jumping captured his attention, and he set his sights on becoming Britain’s first ski-jumper in over 60 years. Soon, he crosses paths with a retired American jumper Bronson (Hugh Jackman) who reluctantly serves as his mentor after a series of unsuccessful attempts at jumping the 40 meter ramp.  Even though the British Olympic Committee is against letting the unorthodox athlete compete for safety reasons, the misfit duo of trainer and trainee soon prepare for a bid at the 1988 Winter Games. The rest is history.

From the first scene of Eddie The Eagle, we know what we are getting into. This isn’t serious, Oscar-baiting affair, but rather a family-friendly underdog story with a good helping of comedic touches. Directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, Eddie The Eagle is a delightful combination of quirky characters and earnest storytelling. However, the film is given to us in an extremely tired and overused package, and it’s hard not to see Eddie as anything more than a well meaning but dressed-up cliche.

Still, Eddie is incredibly charming in its earnestness. Edgarton is perfectly cast here as the sheepish and innocent athlete, while Jackson fits his role like a glove playing Bronson, the cowboy renegade who always has a whiskey flask in hand (emblazoned with an American flag, of course).  Both give great performances and the quick-witted, dry-as-a-desert remarks between the two characters are some of the film’s finest moments. It becomes clear that Fletcher knows his story well, has a specific audience in mind, and (like any good director) caters towards what the audience wants to see. Thematically and aesthetically, Eddie excels with flying colors and manages to be entertaining throughout its runtime thanks to a combination of solid editing, music, and photography choices. Much more sophisticated than it’s cartoonish nature would imply, I was surprised how much I found myself rooting for Eddie The Eagle.  

Bottom Line: Though it takes the form of a conventional sports drama, light-hearted Eddie The Eagle is playful enough to stand out with an overdose of British wit, ingenuity, and charisma.

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: Cool Runnings (1993) + A Walk In The Woods (2014) + Rudy (1993)