I, Tonya

Myrna Loy

(R)

Grade: B

I joined the Allison Janney fan club when I became hooked on “West Wing,” gobbling up the Netflix reruns voraciously one summer.

Janney won four Emmys for her portrayal of C.J. Cregg, White House Press Secretary.

For me the indelible moment came in season one, episode 18, when Cregg lip-synched, “They call me the Jackal,” while the whole White House staff smiled and howled in appreciation. One character who dared to try ask a serious question during Janney’s song was dismissed abruptly: “You’re talking to me during “The Jackal? Never talk to me during The Jackal.”

That scene and countless others like it, sent Janney’s career skyrocketing. She added three more Emmys for other roles in “Mom” and “Masters of Sex.”

I’ll be cheering for Janney on Sunday, March 2, to win her much-deserved Oscar for “I, Tonya.”

She’s nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of the Tonya Harding’s cruel unhinged mom.

Janney should be one of two Maleficent Mothers to win that night. Frances McDormand’s vengeful mom is favored for Best Actress, setting the stage to honor two portrayals of Mothers Unplugged.

Margot Robbie’s uncensored portrayal of Harding also received a much-deserved nomination. Robbie does a fine job of capturing the meteoric rise and thunderous fall of skater Tonya Harding.

The acting of Janney and Robbie make “I, Tonya” more watchable than it has any right to be.

I very much did not want to see this film, because I’m not a Tonya Harding fan. She was convicted for her role in the clubbing of the right knee of Nancy Kerrigan, her rival for figure-skating gold at the Olympics. After that, Harding became a lady wrestler and, along the way, made some porn movies.

Not exactly a role model for young girls.

The last thing I wanted to see was a film that glorified Harding’s notorious life.

“I, Tonya” did not change my mind about Harding. I still don’t want her on a box of Wheaties.

But, in fairness, the film does a powerful and sometimes touching job of showing how Harding won skating medals in spite of having a mother-from-hell. The hyper-controlling mom is the prototypic angry, bruised parent who never saw fit to praise her daughter.

That Harding could make the Olympic team from that background is quite a story. Even after Harding left home to escape the abuse, she partnered up with an equally abusive man who beat and berated her.

But the skating goes on, and the medals keep being hung around Tonya Harding’s neck.

Somehow the skater lands her triple axels, in defiance of those who refused to believe in her.

“I, Tonya” shifts back and forth -- in jarring fashion -- between black comedy and tragedy. Much of the script is played for laughs, focusing on the buffoons around Harding who ultimately clubbed Kerrigan. That portion plays out like “Dumb and Dumber” as the team concocts a harebrained plan to keep Kerrigan from beating Tonya.

The script clouds the question as to whether Harding orchestrated the attack on Kerrigan or was a victim of a stupid crime planned by her stupid “friends.” My verdict: Harding was guilty as an accessory. Lock her up and take away her skates.

The script makes no pretense to be factual. The movie starts with a confession that truth doesn’t matter much. We are told that this is Tonya’s story -- one that may or may not be true.

At its heart, “I, Tonya” is a very sad tragedy of abuse on many levels -- and how that abuse disrupts the life of the victim for decades to come. Tonya’s defense against all the pain was to channel the anger into her skates -- and beat the world.

Harding was the first woman skater to land a triple axel in competition. She was a brilliant skater who attacked her programs with almost frightening intensity.

Simultaneously, she was thoroughly unlikable.

She lost many meets because judges did not want to reward such an unpleasant human being. One judge tells her point blank she’s not the kind of person the United States wants to send to the Olympics as our ambassador.

Hearing that, Tonya learns to fake it ’til she makes it -- she will paint a forced smile on her face just to assuage the judges. When she turned on that chilling smile, I was reminded of the monster from Stephen King’s “It.” He also bore a frightening grin.

The story is bipolar, shifting constantly from goofy dark comedy to heartbreaking tragedy.

“I, Tonya” would have been a forgettable film except for Janney and Robbie.

Both of these actresses are phenomenal, dragging us -- against our will -- into an unpleasant story. They tie our laces tight and push us onto the ice.

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