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I, Tonya

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

I, Tonya

I, Tonya is not a story about an ambitious mother driving her reluctant daughter. It is about the ambitious daughter who has loved skating since she first stepped on the ice when she was three years old. When her mother, Lavona (Allison Janney) sees that, she devotes her own manic, focused energy to propelling Tonya (Margot Robbie) all the way to the Olympics. In driving her daughter forward, this mother becomes a monster, but Tonya also wants that gold medal.

If we hadn’t watched the public side of all this unfold in the1984 Olympics, it would be impossible to believe either the personalities or the steps taken to ensure Tonya’s success. It is so violent at points that disbelieving laughter ripples through the audience. Did this really happen? Yes. Filling in the details is this movie’s gift to us.

Mother and daughter – labeled “white trash” within the skating community – resent deeply the judges insistence that champions come from “appropriate” backgrounds. They are defensive of who they are even though the reality is more one of behavior than class.

Off the ice, Tonya marries, leaves, and returns to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a stupid man with a consuming mean streak. As Tonya works her way up in the skating world, Jeff makes plans to write letters to Nancy Kerrigan – Tonya’s main competitor – to throw her off her performance in the upcoming games.

Jeff’s awful pal Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Houser) takes the plan up a notch by swatting Kerrigan’s leg with a sharp instrument. If you didn’t see the TV of those games, you may think this is overplayed. It isn’t. The villains are both dumb and mean and the mother is without honesty. Tonya herself, while not part of the planning, lets us know how she feels about her treatment by the judges.

Why would you want to go to a movie laced with cruelty, stupidity, and malicious acts? First, because every single actor does a genuinely good job. Margot Robbie is terrific as the accomplished, driven Tonya who is riven with resentment and anger at the culture of the skating world and at her own background. Julianne Nicholson (Diane Rawlinson) is good as the coach who stepped into this family mess.

Allison Janney creates a woman who embodies harsh selfishness and real life cruelty that equals anything I’ve seen on screen before. Hers is a blockbuster performance of a woman driven by resentment at her lot, ambition for her daughter, and a willingness to do immoral and illegal things to further her cause. She will do, and does, whatever it takes.

You will see guns, alcohol, ambition, crime, cruelty, and hatred all marshaled to get Tonya to the top. You will also see this true story come to life in some of the best performances of this year. And you may, as I did, leave the theater thinking of all the negatives rolling in Tonya’s head as she said, “I was loved for a minute.”

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : I, Tonya
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 2:24
Rating: R
Date: 14 January 2018

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

How often during this year’s barren movie scene have you been surprised? Hustle off to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for a fix. Martin McDonagh has created a movie that is made for the oddball talents of Frances McDormand and she embraces his script with abandon. It’s odd to suggest that you will laugh often and not be much bothered by the violence, but that’s true. Take a look.

The daughter of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has been raped and murdered and Ebbing’s local police department has not turned up a clue to the murderer in over a year. In her anger, Mildred rents three decrepit billboards on a seldom used highway entrance to the town for a month with an option to extend if she can raise the money. Papered with a bright red background, she paints enormous white letters. On #1: Still No Arrests. #2: How Come, Chief Willoughby? #3: Raped While Dying.

Mildred then visits the police department where all conversation is wrapped in profanity. Take that as the announcement that the rest of the movie will unfold in an odd mixture of accusations, comic moments, physical violence, and shifting alliances all delivered in obscenities.

We get to know Dixon (Sam Rockwell), second in command, who unfurls an odd character who keeps going home to his mother to refuel his brutal self for all other encounters. Woody Harrelson creates William Willoughby, the tough talking police chief who confesses to Mildred that he has cancer. His dying police chief is a grand portrait of a man who actually wants to find the truth but is wrapped in fear of dying and leaving his family. Even his search for the truth doesn’t derail Mildred’s foul mouthed verbal attack.

McDormand, looking the same in every scene with uncombed hair and jeans, lets us know with just a few atypical gestures that a human being lives within this angry woman. She creates a character like none we’ve ever seen on screen. When I promise that you’ll both laugh and shiver as she unleashes her rage, you won’t believe me until you watch that odd combination unfold violently in the hands of this unpredictable actor. She’s not just an original; she’s very good.

Other than the three billboards, there is little time spent on the town or its inhabitants. We meet just nine characters brought together by McDormand’s actions. As they destroy each other verbally and physically in that grim police station, the station itself becomes a stage for the eruption of the violence just resting in the minds of all the players.

By now you are probably deciding this one isn’t for you, but I urge you to go. If you think I’m crazy to recommend a movie saturated in fire and blood and guns and bad language, just go see for yourself what writer/director Martin McDonagh and Frances McDormand have done. And did I forget to tell you that you’ll laugh a lot?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Word Count : 498
Running Time: 1:55
Rating : R
Date : December 3, 2017