Although the film was loaded with cameos of real ice skaters like Brian Boitano, Peggy Fleming, Scott Hamliton, Nancy Kerrigan, Dorothy Hamill, and more, it still couldn’t match the box office receipts of Ferrell’s other film juggernauts like, The Other Guys, Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Rickey Bobby, or his Ron Burgundy films.
We just had Battle of the Sexes, so here comes another true-life sports movie, but this time the story–with tongue firmly in cheek–tells the infamous tale of the whacking of professional ice skater and Olympic hopeful Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. What really happened? We find out (kinda) in this Rashomon-type of movie.
In this almost docu-drama/comedy, we meet little Tonya Harding (McKenna Grace), an 8-year-old trailer-trash redneck child driven to ice skate by her acerbic and abusive mother, LaVona (an unrecognizable Allison Janney). LaVona chain-smokes, has a bowl-cut Beatles haircut, and curses like a sailor, but she refuses to see her daughter be anything less than skating perfection. Even with Tonya’s kind and patient skating coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) training her, Tonya never achieves love with LaVona, but she does later with local mechanic, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).
But new husband Jeff is just as physically and mentally abusive as LaVona, and Tonya (Margot Robbie) feels this is what she deserves. Still, it’s the training and dedication to the sport that she thrives on and pretty soon she’s winning event after event, competing against some of the best skaters in the world. She even performs THE most difficult skating routine ever, the triple axel. No one else could do that! However, the fact she was lower class and foul-mouthed didn’t help her in the judging.
After blowing the 1992 Olympics, she gives up, but Diane gives her a second chance to compete in the 1994 Winter Olympics. Buckling down and trying to stay clear from abusive Jeff, she makes it all the way to the finals. Enter Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), Tonya’s former traveling roommate, friend, and Olympic sweetheart. Seeing her competition as major trouble, Jeff calls on Tonya’s personal bodyguard, delusional Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walker Hauser), to just ‘threaten’ Nancy. Now Shawn is, how shall I put this? He’s a couple tacos short of a combo plate, know what I mean?
Shawn, acting on his own (or did he?) hires a couple of idiot goons to “take care” of Nancy, and the rest is history. The media circus and the FBI descend like flies and Tonya is caught up in an ice-storm of Biblical proportions. Did she know about the attack? Did she orchestrate it and/or agree with it? We may never know. With candid “interviews” of Tonya, Jeff, LaVona, and others, plus some very funny fourth-wall breaking takes to the audience, the movie paints a questionable look of the gifted skater caught up in a career-ending whirlwind that may, or may not, have been one of her own making.
Screenwriter Steve Rogers (Hope Floats, P.S. I Love You) only writes once in awhile, but he delivers a doozie with this one. Laced with enough F-bombs to fill an Ice-O-Plex, the real-life characters are fleshed-out with stunning, and sometimes graphic moments. The script pulls a hat trick by uniquely telling the story through multiple narratives; directly at the camera (interview-style), fourth-wall breaks, and classic. You’d think this would get annoying or would run out of steam, but it doesn’t. Rogers has the story flow evenly from each timeline to the next without it getting messy. But you can thank the ‘occasional’ director for that.
Craig Gillespie, who only directs here and there (Fright Night, Mr. Woodcock), is about as unique as Rogers. Utilizing steadicams, harsh amateur documentary set-up shots, and amazing CGI-mapping figure skating filming, Gillespie plays with the film like a kid in a candy store. Rockin’ the movie with a 90’s soundtrack adds to the flavor as well. Never really leaning one way or the other on the final Harding verdict (YOU have to decide), watch for his changes in camera styles and lenses as the film progresses. This is not just your typical ‘true-life sports movie’, but something more.
Robbie, fresh off the heels of being that rascally Harley Quinn, proves that she can act the hell outta a movie. Her portrayal of Harding is not only tragically poignant, but will make you feel sorry for fallen-from-grace skater. Sebastian Stan is every woman’s nightmare and plays it way too close to the bone, while Janney gives an Oscar winning performance as the mother from Hell. Young McKenna Grace steals her part, as usual, but look out for Paul Walker Hauser who is particularly awesome as the deranged friend.
Blades of Glory (2007)
There’s no denying it, Will Ferrell is one funny guy. Match him up with the right partner (John C. Reilly, Kevin Hart, Mark Wahlberg) and you can mine some comedy gold. Match him with someone else and, well, it’s not all that great. Case in point, John Heder.
It’s the 2002 World Winter Sport Games and two skilled skaters are arch-rivals against each other: raunchy sex addict Chazz Michael Michaels (Ferrell) and effeminate and fussy Jimmy MacElroy (Heder). When they tie for the gold medal and have a heated argument, it quickly escalates to the point where a mascot becomes set on fire. As a result, the National Figure Skating Association strips both men of their medals and bans them from men’s singles competition for life. Years later we learn that Jimmy’s billionaire dad disowned him and left him dead broke, forcing him to work at a sporting goods store, while drunken Chazz plays an Evil Wizard in a kids skating play.
But! A loophole in the ban will allow Jimmy to compete in pair skating IF he can find a suitable partner. Gee, I wonder WHO he’s gonna get!? Jimmy contacts his old coach, Robert (Craig T. Nelson), and gets finds Chazz (big surprise, right?), as the first-ever same-sex pairs team. Robert informs them that in order to win, they’ll need to not only get along, but perform the the deadly “Iron Lotus” routine, an extremely dangerous skating maneuver that could decapitate someone! Naturally, Chazz is a HUGE pain in the butt while Jimmy just wants to compete again.
Meanwhile, there’s the brother and sister skating team of Stranz and Fairchild (Will Arnett & Amy Poehler), who are worried that their spot as the top is threatened when Jimmy and Chazz perform well at a Winter Sports qualifier. Besides trying to sabotage their partnership with sexual dalliances, the nasty couple kidnap both Chazz and Jimmy, but both are able to escape. Arriving in time to compete, Chazz and Jimmy begin their tricky Iron Lotus routine, but Fairchild throws pearls onto the ice, causing Chazz to trip and break his ankle! Jimmy switch places and they perform it perfectly, winning the competition.
With FOUR screenwriters (John Altschuler, Jeff Cox, Craig Cox, and Dave Krinsky) and TWO directors (Josh Gordon & Will Speck), this very silly movie never really had a chance. The set-up was fine, to be sure, but the execution failed with waaaay too many cooks (writers) stirring the pot. Then you had the dynamic of Ferrell and Heder which did not work at all. Ferrell has to be able to bounce his manic ad-libbing and character persona off the right person(s), but Heder ain’t that guy. The direction isn’t very good either as neither Gordon or Speck had any experience in movie directing, only TV series stuff.