Toronto International Film Festival Day 2

Posted 11 September 2017

tiff 2


My initial impression of this year's festival has proven incorrect and you can't help but  trip over stars and celebrities in Toronto this weekend. Lady GaGa literally stopped the traffic when she appeared at the premiere of her documentary Five Foot Two and belted out a few numbers to a theatre packed out with her fans. The film is produced by Netflix so it wasn't on my must-try-to-see list as it will surely be available in the very near future for you to stream and watch at home.

One film that has caught a lot of popular attention is Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya the refreshingly foulmouthed and, at times, downright trashy story of notorious US Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding who instead of being celebrated as one of the few skaters to ever successfully execute the triple axel move is now  remembered for putting out a contract to have her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, maimed. Well the truth, or this film's version of the truth, is not quite as simple as that and Gillespie's tale of Harding's struggle to succeed in the strictly class-orientated world of figure skating is very much an epic Trailer Trash On Ice. Margot Robbie gives a performance that will be called 'Oscar-worthy' from now until next March, and she is good as the gum-chewing, potty-mouthed Harding whose raw talent as a skater was never a good fit for a sport that likes its female competitors to look and act as demure princesses. Instead of performing elegantly polite pieces to light classical music, Harding strutted out balls-to-the-wall skating routines that owed more to Las Vegas bump 'n' grind and  were accompanied by heavy metal music.

Harding's life is shown to have been a despairing cycle of abuse; from her pushy mother, her brutish and stupid husband and the contempt she receives from the figure skating establishment. Although there are plenty of sharply hilarious set-pieces in the film, it is more a vision of an American nightmare rather than a dream. Acting kudos must go to Alison Janney who is marvellous as Harding's bitter and brittle mother who is incapable of showing her daughter any love but drives her to be the best skater in the USA - which Harding undoubtedly was for a short time. Gillespie's direction is however far too pleased with itself. The film features the main characters giving mock documentary interviews straight to camera and this works well, however when characters then start to address the audience directly with comments and observations during the narrative it all starts feeling too clever for its own good.

And as Harding frequently remarks in the film, 'Ain't that the f@cking truth!!'

Martin Carter

Principal Film Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, Martin regularly gives lectures and courses at The Showroom Cinema in Sheffield.Read more posts by Martin Carter


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