I’ve been seeing a bunch of films at the cinema lately, perhaps making up for a 2016 where I barely visited. There have been a lot of quality films released recently, and it’s no coincidence that it’s Oscars season. I recently saw I, Tonya (2017) and Lady Bird (2017) – two films with extremely strong female leads, fantastic performances, and with stories and themes that deeply resonated with me. Spoiler alert, I really enjoyed both films. Further thoughts below!
I, Tonya (2017)
Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes. (source)
I, Tonya (2017, dir. Craig Gillespie) is a strange and excellent one. Delivered in somewhat of a mockumentary slash talking head interview style storytelling format, the film tells the story of one Tonya Harding, who according to this film seems to be one hell of a woman. I think I was slightly too young to know very much about this whole drama in the early 90s, but the influence of this one incident on wider pop culture is undeniable – after watching this film, I finally understood one reference to it in a Seinfeld episode from 1995. The good news is, I, Tonya is exciting from start to finish. We meet our rag tag cast of crazies, and there really are no weak performances, the highlight being of course Margot Robbie’s Oscar-nominated performance as Tonya Harding. She is stellar, giving a passionate and desperate performance of a woman at the centre of some insane shenanigans. Allison Janney as her mother was somehow both hilarious and depressing at the same time. Direction by Craig Gillespie is absolutely fantastic, with the ice skating scenes being thrilling despite some momentary sketchy CGI work. It is undoubtable that Tonya herself was insanely talented, through her roughness and authenticity, and some original footage of her routines during the credits assures us of this. One thing that didn’t sit well with me, though, was the minimising of Harding’s own experience of domestic violence, allegedly beginning at approximately age fifteen at the hands of partner Jeff Gillooly. At times, this serious issue appeared to be played for jokes, which is unacceptable to me. But ultimately, I, Tonya is a strange delight. Despite whatever ethical reservations I held about the way the film treated the domestic violence experienced by its protagonist, on the whole, the film is entertaining from the beginning to the end. You find yourself rooting for Harding, who did indeed receive a life sentence following the crime that was committed, despite not having to serve any jail time.
Is it worth paying for a ticket?: Yes.
Watch the trailer here.
Lady Bird (2017)
Christine “Lady Bird” MacPherson is a high school senior from the “wrong side of the tracks.” She longs for adventure, sophistication, and opportunity, but finds none of that in her Sacramento Catholic high school. Lady Bird follows the title character’s senior year in high school, including her first romance, her participation in the school play, and most importantly, her applying for college. (source)
Anyone who experienced their adolescence in the early 2000s, anyone who has experienced the innate struggle associated with an adolescent girlhood search for identity, anyone who has been a young woman confronting her need to be independent within the context of a mother-daughter relationship… will find this an extremely, deeply, painfully relatable film. Lady Bird almost transcends time and space in this manner. It’s a story of a girl at one point in time, but it’s kind of also a story about all girls. Greta Gerwig has created (and directed beautifully) an amazing film following a memorable protagonist. Saoirse Ronan’s performance as the titular Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is captivating. Sure, Lady Bird as a character is almost painfully pretentious, resulting in some very cringeworthy moments, and also some ironically funny moments too. But it’s this adolescent pretentiousness that affords the opportunity of breaking through to one’s true identity, wishes, and needs. Awkward sexual experiences, summer employment, friendship dramas, emerging from high school and attempting to land on your feet… these are the struggles that Ronan portrays so perfectly. Laurie Metcalf is also amazing as her mother, who provides a strong maternal backbone to the worries of the film. I honestly find it difficult to identify any weak points. With an excellent script, lovely direction by Greta Gerwig, amazing cinematography by Sam Levy and production design by Chris Jones which places us firmly within the wild world of 2002, it’s a creative delight. It reminded me somewhat of Boyhood (2014) but without the extreme filming schedule. Lady Bird received Oscar nominations for Best Film, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and for all of these it is extremely worthy. Whether it will break through on the night, we shall see.
Is it worth paying for a ticket?: Yes!
Watch the trailer here.