Jan 17

“I, Tonya”: Role of Domestic Abuse and Society’s

Not only will [I, Tonya] make you think about Tonya Harding again, it will make you do so with unexpected sympathy. Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com, reviewing I, Tonya 

Although not every critic is fond of Craig Gillespie‘s I,Tonya, the reviews definitely skew highward, currently a 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Much praise goes to Margot Robbie in the lead as well as to the supporting characters, including Allison Janney as Tonya’s cold, cruel mother.

The infamous Tonya Harding-related “Incident” against Nancy Kerrigan is presented in the film in light of Harding’s own victimization: from childhood abuse to marital abuse to classism to news media bias.

Leah Greenblatt (ew.com) sets up the story line:

In a sport of princesses, Tonya Harding was the perpetual toad: a trashy, too-brash outsider whose mind-blowing axels and sheer athleticism could never quite make up for the fact that she didn’t fit the demure, spangled mold of an ideal figure skater. Raised but hardly nurtured by a chain-smoking waitress (Allison Janney, a viper in Tootsie glasses and a mushroom-cap haircut), Tonya steadily clawed her way up the junior ranks, thanks mostly to pure willpower and the proxy parenting of a coach (Julianne Nicholson) who tried her best to steer her wild-card charge. What set Harding’s destiny, though, was the arrival of Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), the dim-bulb paramour and protector whose wonky scheme to take down his wife’s rival Nancy Kerrigan would go down in Olympics infamy.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “It’s framed as a fake documentary (it opens with the characters being interviewed 20 years later), and it has a tone of poker-faced goofball Americana that suggests a biopic made by the Coen brothers.”

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “…[Gillespie has] made a movie that’s affectionately mocking—of this theatrical sport, of the idiots who surrounded Harding, of this hideous moment in fashion and pop culture—without actually mocking Harding herself.”

But the intermittent humor isn’t received well by all critics. Richard Brody, New Yorker, for instance, sees “empathy…mixed with condescension; much of the movie’s bluff comedy mocks the tone and the actions of Tonya and her milieu.” And Manohla Dargis, New York Times, titles her review “‘I, Tonya.’ I, Punching Bag. I, Punch Line.”

I’m mixed on this myself. The humorous tone, though sometimes a helpful relief, wasn’t always enough to offset the disturbing effects of physical and emotional abuse continually being heaped on Harding.

How much of I, Tonya is truth? April Wolfe, Village Voice: “Gillespie doesn’t pretend to be definitive. Instead, he spins the tragedy of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan into a searing indictment of America’s obsession with ‘America’ and the ways that public opinion can be irreparably warped by sensationalist news media.”

Our images of both skaters have largely derived, notes Inkoo Kang, Slate, from that kind of media, which “remade the polished, graceful Kerrigan into a ‘princess’ and the brassy, unvarnished Harding into a ‘pile of crap’.”

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service, offers this apt summary:

Toward the end…our heroine…drawls flatly: ‘The haters always say, Tonya, tell the truth. There’s no such thing as truth.’
Throughout the film, Rogers’ screenplay reminds us it’s not just ‘I, Tonya,’ but ‘We, Tonya.’ She endures years of abuse to make it to the top, but fame becomes her plight…In possibly the most searing indictment, Tonya, during an interview segment, looks directly into the camera and says, ‘It was like being abused all over again. Only this time it was by you … you’re all my attackers too.’

Watch the trailer below:

Jan 13

“August: Osage County”–A Strong Film Adaptation

Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer Prize for the semi-autobiographical Broadway play he’s now adapted for the screen. As described on IMDB, the film August: Osage County, directed by John Wells, is “(a) look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.”

Although the movie is the only version I’ve seen, it’s easy to envision how the play would also have powerfully and rivetingly revealed the various layers of family dysfunction involved. One who actually can make the comparison to the original, Scott FoundasVariety, concludes, “…(T)his two-ton prestige pic won’t win the hearts of highbrow critics or those averse to door-slamming, plate-smashing, top-of-the-lungs histrionics, but as a faithful filmed record of Letts’ play, one could have scarcely hoped for better.”

When alcoholic poet Beverly (Sam Shepard) goes missing just days after he hires young Johnna (Misty Upham) to help take care of the house and his pill-popping cancer-stricken wife Violet (Meryl Streep), the latter turns to her adult kids. There’s the middle daughter, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), the one who’s stayed nearby; the eldest, Barbara (Julia Roberts), who brings her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) from Colorado; and the flighty, self-involved Karen (Juliette Lewis), who lives in Florida and is recently engaged to slick and sleazy Steve (Dermot Mulroney).

Also on the scene are Violet’s sister (Margo Martindale) and her husband (Chris Cooper) and their adult though seemingly emotionally stunted son (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Very little is seen of Beverly, by the way, who early on is found to have drowned himself. It’s the intensely dramatic interactions among different constellations of family members following the funeral that comprise the meat of the movie. Fortunately, there are sufficient doses of intermittent humor as well.

Watch the trailer for August: Osage County below:

More About Matriarch Violet

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “It’s both ironic and tragic that she’s suffering from mouth cancer. Her mouth burns and her tongue feels as if it’s on fire, she insists, but that doesn’t stop her from spewing verbal venom.”

Owen Gleiberman, ew.com: “…(S)he’s so drugged up on pharmaceuticals that it’s hard to say where the medicine leaves off and the self-medicating begins.”

Some Family Dynamics

Ian BuckwalterNPR: “Everyone here has pain, everyone has secrets, and while we join these characters for a short time, it’s easy to see that the cycles of lies, distrust, and abuse go back for generations, clinging to this family like the hot summer dust of the empty plains that surround them.”

Rex ReedNew York Observer: “This is a story about people bonded by blood but doing what they must to destroy each other—partly out of fear and panic, but also out of twisted love. The more they reveal about themselves, and each other, the more they come to realize how they don’t know each other at all. In the stifling angst of an unbearable Oklahoma August, they merely occupy the same space in a house of strangers.”

Overview of August: Osage County

Owen Gleibermanew.com: “The fights, insults, and sadistic parent-child mind games, the powerhouse acting that shades into overacting (though I’ll be damned if you could say exactly when)…the movie is red meat for anyone who thrives on a certain brand of punchy, in-your-face emotional shock value.”

The Writer, Tracy Letts, Speaks

Letts, interviewed on NPR, believes the material asks these ultimate questions: “Do you have a choice? Are you your brother’s keeper? When does your responsibility to your family end, and when should your responsibility to yourself take over?”

In an article in Slant, Letts states the following about another key element:

…I’ve been sober for over 20 years, and I’m a subscriber of AA and its philosophies. So there probably is something in there about my belief that a certain giving up of control is good for the soul. I certainly think that, in August: Osage County, that moment in the play when Barbara insists she’s ‘running things now’ was always a choice moment for the audience, and it’s in the film as well. And I think it taps into something that people feel, particularly in regard to their families: ‘Oh my god, if you would just do what I want you to do we’d be so much better off. If you’d just behave the way I feel you should behave.’ As opposed to allowing people to make their own choices, for good or ill.