What to Watch
I, Tonya (2017) brings us the story of Tonya Harding, the first of our “Notorious Women” double. The movie depicts events that occurred in the lead up to the 1994 winter Olympics, and in particular the American figure skating trials. A scandal erupted around an attack on one of Harding’s fellow skaters – Nancy Kerrigan. The attack left Kerrigan badly injured and Harding implicated though both would go on to compete at the Olympics. Was Tonya directly involved? or was the attack incompetently ‘masterminded’ by her then husband? I, Tonya represents her take on these events.
Margot Robbie plays Tonya and portrays her anti-social and irascible character with great sympathy. Robbie is 5 inches taller than the petite Harding, but we are convinced by her performance, even through the difficult skating scenes. Much is made of Harding’s one reluctantly accepted achievement – the Triple Axel. An insanely difficult skating feat, that is cleverly captured in the movie. It is interesting to note that only 3 women have ever competed the Triple Axel in Olympic completion. It is for that moment, achieved through pit-falls, both imposed and self-inflicted, that Tonya, in the end, earns a degree of redemption and respect.
It would seem that every successful athlete requires a pushy, if not borderline abusive parent (and their parrot) to ‘egg’ them on to success. In I, Tonya that role is taken up by Harding’s mother LaVona. She is played to despising, Oscar winning effect by Allison Janney. Janney is best known for playing C.J. Cregg – a character from the highly regarded television series, The West Wing. This links us to our second movie – via Aaron Sorkin, who created The West Wing.
Along with The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin is also well known for his writing in movies, such as The Social Network. He first came to notice for the television sitcom, Sports Night, which is credited with the death of the ‘laugh track’. Prior to Sports Night, almost all American sitcoms utilised the ‘laugh track’ or ‘canned laughter’ – “actor 1 says something funny” … “pause for laugh track to be inserted” … “actor 2 says something funny in reply” … “pause for laugh track to be inserted”, and so on – you get the idea. Take out the ‘laugh track’ and the dialogue becomes incredibly stilted. As many who have enjoyed his work would know, this is the complete antithesis of Sorkin’s fast flowing walk and talk style.
This brings us to Molly’s Game (2017), which represents Sorkin’s first attempt at direction. Sorkin is also responsible for the screenplay, based on the book written by the real Molly Bloom. Molly was a highly competitive skier. She too is driven by a parent – her father this time (though he sadly does not have a parrot). Molly is seriously injured when competing at an Olympic qualifier, ending her sporting career. Utilising her Olympian will, she goes on to create a very profitable business running exclusive high-stakes poker games. All is going well until she has to decide whether to take a rake!
Molly Bloom is played by the always wonderful Jessica Chastain. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey as Molly’s lawyer who is at first reluctant to take the case. Kevin Costner plays Molly’s father, a character with a greater degree of compassion than Harding’ mother, LaVona.
Two highly compelling stories of women involved in public controversy and played from their perspectives.