2017 Movies: The Disaster Artist and I, Tonya

I didn't initially pair these two together because they were both based on true stories, but now I'm glad I did. I guess a lot of movies these days that aren't documentaries are based on true stories--there's something interesting about that for me in terms of genre, but that's for another day.

 James Franco--I have some qualms with him for various reasons, though I did read an interview in The Believer with him once that made me be like, "okay you're alright," but then that time he hosted the Oscars with Anne Hathaway was a disaster and I'm still mad about that? Anyway, Geoff and I watched an interview with him on Jimmy Fallon that made me want to see The Disaster Artist, despite having never seen The Room, the movie that made the main character of Franco's film, Tommy Wiseau, famous. You definitely don't have to have seen or be a fan of "the best worst movie ever made" to  enjoy this film. In a completely different way than 2011's The Artist, (JUST realized there's a one-word difference between that film and this one--hmm!) this movie is a movie about making movies and going to see movies and loving movies and watching movies and how movies are made. It is about failure and success--simultaneous failure and success, but also separate failures and separate successes. It is about being young and making decisions that will impact your entire life and being of an indeterminate age and not giving up on your dreams. It's about friendship, and weirdos, and process. It's one of those movies that because it's based on a true story, you know the ending, but you still feel with and for the characters as their histories play out before you. The "Based on a True Story"-ness of this film really makes it work, as the mysteries surrounding Tommy are so intriguing it's hard not to want to dig deeper into the story itself after you've seen it. I listened, rapt, to an interview with Howard Stern, James Franco, and Tommy, following my having seen the movie, and hung on to every word. I hope the movie gets nominated for an Oscar so that Tommy goes to the Academy Awards, as he said he would--also, because I think it probably deserves it.
FAVE THINGS: The side-by-sides that roll with the credits are... so good. Dave Franco--swoon.
DECENT PROFESH REVIEW COMMENTS: This Dave Sims' Atlantic review makes a good point--Franco himself has been the victim of "critical revilement" as well, which wasn't something I considered.

I, TONYA (some minor spoilers, if possible considering it's based on a true story)
When I went to see The Disaster Artist, I saw a preview for this, and I thought--I must see that film. So I did. It's one of those films that I recommend catching every moment of to really get the full experience of its glory and just overall excellent film-making. The opening, for instance, lets viewers know the film is based on interviews with Tonya Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. The film, then, revisits Tonya's life, growing up with an abusive mother and then transitioning to an abusive marriage. There are moments when you are reminded that the film is based on these interviews, like shots of Tonya (the actress who plays her, though, not Tonya herself) sitting in a kitchen, smoking, seemingly talking like she's just been asked a question or prompted to discuss a particular moment of her life. There are other times when, mid-scene, a character addresses the audience of the film, as though she not only were participating in the actual events of her life, but narrating it from the future as well. Finally, there are, as there must be, moments of denial for when Tonya and Jeff's stories do not align, which serve not only to remind viewers that they're watching a film, based on a true story, but also that things only happen one way, despite the variety of angles they can be viewed from and all the lies that might get in the way of any faithful telling of any of those angles. I, Tonya is a "biographical black comedy" according to its wikipedia page, but I am not sure what is comedic about it except, like any good film, there were moments that made you laugh as well as moments that made you cry. A tragicomedy might be a better descriptor for this truly moving depiction of an impoverished, extremely talented figure skater whose inability to see herself as worthwhile led to her moving from abusive relationship to abusive relationship and kept her from playing out that talent in a way that recognized it. I am not sure I see the comedy there, though the darkness, yes. As a young, figure-skating obsessed child, as so many of us who grew up in the 90s were that fateful year, I suffered when Kerrigan was hurt--I clipped every newspaper article about figure skating I could find in the Courier Post and saved them in one of those boxes shirts might come in at Christmas. I don't know if I still have this archive, but my instincts were that this was an important event and I needed to save every moment of it for the future. It was bigger than something, I wasn't sure what. But I don't remember how much of a mystery I believed the attack was--I most likely read like a 4th grader fascinated with a news story might read such articles--enraptured, and I wonder how much I believed the news media's depiction of her as the villain. My obsession, I believe, was for the archive, the paper, more than the story I was following, though also both. I read an article about Tonya in an issue of The Believer (second mention, coincidentally, in this post of a great magazine--) that really humanized her for me, and this film perpetuated that feeling, despite how a younger version of myself may have seen her. There are some things that seem clear--Jeff's friend organized the attack. There are others that are not--did Jeff know about it? Did Tonya know about it? The film leaves the answering of these questions up to its audience, but also allows for the certainty of one thing: we'll probably never really know. I hope this gets nominated for Best Picture. All the acting in it is excellent as is the costuming and make-up, so I hope it also gets some other awards.
FAVE THINGS: The acting in this film... is so good... that sometimes it felt like it actually WAS the IRL people and not actors? Like, they were so real in their embodiment of their roles; The fourth-wall breaking and "interview"-style moments feel so real and unobtrusive and like it really HAD to be part of the film, not a stylistic choice, that it deserves major kudos; also: McKenna Grace as young Tonya...; finally, I LOVE a comma in a title.
DECENT PROFESH REVIEW COMMENTS: Some reviews say there's "no one to root for" in this film-- I firmly disagree, as I am rooting for Tonya the whole time and don't see how you can't finish this film at the very least truly hoping she really just didn't know about the attack on Kerrigan. In a Variety review, Owen Gleiberman says, "It’s about time we had a world-class feminine lowlife to root for, and this, at long last, is that movie," and a Washington Post headline reads, "This is the movie Tonya Harding deserves." I don't feel qualified to call anyone a "lowlife," though the actual definition of the word may apply, nor do I feel qualified to say who "deserves" any certain version of a thing, but if I did, I might agree whole-heartedly with these reviewers. The Alyssa Rosenberg WaPo review is worth reading--there's something important, maybe, about a personal connection to the Harding-Kerrigan story that makes this movie really sing, and so many of us, especially as young people-- and I think her review nails that while also discussing the film in a way that, well, the film deserves.


1) I, Tonya

2) The Disaster Artist

3) Lady Bird

4) Downsizing


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