“I, Tonya” film review

Of skates and class. Margot Robbie stars as the first US woman to successfully land a triple axel…also the most infamous woman in the history of US Figure Skating in what is likely one of the most difficult and controversial biographical films ever produced. Tonya Harding is back in the headlines and on TV, and even on the ice if you caught last night’s 2-hour Truth and Lies special on ABC. While most Olympiad names are forgotten within a short amount of time, Harding and Nancy Kerrigan’s names will always have notoriety through the years. Nearly 25 years later, we find ourselves still talking about Tonya Harding. The biopic I, Tonya directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers provides audiences with an unapologetic glimpse into Harding’s early life through “the incident.” It is unlike any biographical film that I have ever seen before. Most often, biopics slant toward making the central character more likable than perhaps they were in real life. This film approaches Harding from the perspective of not shying away from her foul-mouthed, inability to take responsibility, violent temper; instead, showing us an authentic Harding who struggled through life to break the chains of classless poverty and emerge onto the scene as a professional figure skating record-setting champion. While this movie does not set out to prove what really happened, it does show what is likely to have happened. Although “the incident” is what everyone remembers, this movie shows a struggling young person attempting to change but thwarted at every angle by hearing that she cannot because she isn’t what America is looking for and has no class. But why couldn’t it have been just about the skating???

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) took to ice like a fish takes to water. She was an ice skating prodigy from the soft age of four when she took her first lesson from coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson). Growing up poor, she faced obstacle at every triple toe loop. From mental and physical abuse to sexual abuse, she weathered it all. Her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) was a monster of a woman who pushed and pushed in order to toughen “soft” Tonya. Even hot-tempered Tonya found love–albeit brief–with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). The mental and physical abuse continued and only worsened after she set the world record for being the first US woman to successfully land a triple axel in 1991. But she would come in fourth in the 1992 Olympics. She fell into despair after that crushing defeat. When the US Figure Skating association gives Harding a second chance at the 1994 Winter Olympics, all seems like it is finally going her way, and she would finally experience the success she dreamt of her entire life, until “the incident.” Of course, as we all know, she went on to become a national punchline, material for comedians and sitcoms, and the most well-known name in the US after Bill Clinton.

Even though crime and ice skating are central elements in this film, it is truly a commentary on class and abuse. From the moment the movie opens with Harding and her mother smoking a cigarette at the ice rink in Harding’s hometown of Portland juxtaposing them against the pretty and proper coach with her students, we know that we are about to watch a story of class warfare. All Harding wanted was to excel at the sport she was naturally gifted at. Only one small problem: society and the figure skating association made it incredibly difficult–if not nearly impossible–for Tonya Harding to break free of her roots in classless poverty. But don’t allow the beginning of the film fool you into thinking she Harding is a kind soul who finds herself the underdog, she has a volatile temper and foul mouth that constantly gets her into trouble during practice and in competition. This film is an underdog story, but quite the unconventional one. Because we already know going in that she went from the first woman to land a triple axel, national champion to disgraced skater and unsuccessful boxer. For all its various plot points, the common theme throughout the movie is whether or not to allow your financial station in life to determine your behavior on and off the ice. Class has little to do with money, but rather, is a state of mind and demeanor. Perhaps we have a better idea of why Tonya behaved the way she did. The film never excuses her behavior or indirect knowledge (after the fact) of what her husband mastermind, but peels back the 24-hr 1990s news coverage in order to empathize and understand what made Tonya tick.

Is it possible for a square peg to fit into a round hole? Certainly, the life of a figure skater, especially one who represents the US on the global stage, is incredibly structured, polished, and constructed in such a way that the skater always looks his or her best to the public–a facade if you will. But, the once bright career of Harding serves as evidence that if you don’t come from the right family, have the right costume (or clothes), or speak eloquently, then the arena has no place for you. Perhaps that is why Harding still has fans despite her infamy. Although according to the film, she could have spoken up a lot sooner to help the investigation along instead of being fully consumed by having to make the 1994 Olympic team and indirectly covering for her ex-husband, she was dealt a dirty hand by judges and rivals who felt she just didn’t belong with them; and America generally liked an underdog. Unfortunately, this underdog got caught up in a scandal the followed a long history of irreverent behavior. The media coverage certainly did not help Harding’s case any. With the availability of CNN’s 24-hour news coverage, birthed out of the Gulf War now able to capture everything in order to have stories constantly grabbing audience attention, the film paints a picture that the media treated her unfairly and convicted her before the court’s decision to prohibit her from ever competing or coaching again, and the subsequent stripping of titles. Just some food for thought.

The topic of abuse is not shied away from in this film. We witness Tonya suffering from the brutal tongue of her mother, as well as constant physical abuse. Because there lacked the number of social programs for the protection of children and teenagers we have today, and schools were not as in tuned to abuse at home, she had little choice but to deal. Eventually, she would succumb to lashing out in similar ways to what which she experienced every day growing up in that house–house, not home. Her mother attempts to rationalize and excise her behavior because she tells Tonya that fear and anger will drive her to be a champion, but that doesn’t change the lasting affect the lifelong abuse had upon Tonya. It’s entirely possible that Tonya sought out Jeff because she was used ot abuse and felt that she needed it. Talk about warped.

The quality of this biopic is incredible! I absolutely loved the “interview” footage in the 4:3  format whereas the main narrative was in 16:9. Felt like we were watching actual news coverage in 1998. At first, I thought we were, but then I recognized Margot Robbie behind the exquisite makeup and costuming job. It has such an organic–no pretense–feel to the film. Robbie and her costars had me fully convinced that they were their respective characters. All around, the commitment to character was outstanding. Robbie commented in an interview that she studied footage of Harding for over a year, and it shows brilliantly! When the actual footage rolls at the end of the film, it is incredibly difficult to tell the real Tonya from her screen counterpart. Robbie’s monologue in front of the mirror is certainly one for the record books because of just how authentic and powerful it is. The production design and cinematography create a time machine; you will feel as though you have been whisked back 20-30 years throughout the film. Authenticity in spades. Director Craig Gillespie should be immensely proud of the film he crafted! Excellent writing, acting, technical elements. This biographic motion picture has it all. And will certainly get you to once again talk about Tonya Harding.

Highly recommend for those who enjoy controversial biographical films. The high profile critics are not exaggerating when referring to it as one of, if not the, best film of the year. There is so much to like, and for some, hate about this film. Whether you believe her to be criminal or not, there is no doubt that you will be blown away by the quality of this motion picture.

Busch Gardens Tampa Presents Christmas Town 2017

Join Busch Gardens in the merriment of the holiday season by visiting Christmas Town going on now through New Years Eve on select nights! Now in its sixth season, Christmas Town is your theme park event for a good ol’ fashioned celebration, complete with multiple live shows, a singalong train, Santa Claus, Rudolph & Friends, and coasters in the dark! From the traditional to the contemporary, there is a way for everyone to celebrate the joyous holiday season at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. One of the elements that sets Busch Gardens apart from its Central Florida counterparts is the number of shows, live entertainment, and special character meet-and-greets during the event. Christmas Town is bursting with holly, jolly, holiday cheer around ever corner and under every present. Even if you find yourself attending as a solo guest (as I did), you will thoroughly enjoy your time and find plenty to do all over the park. Christmas Town is my pick for most “Christmassy” theme park event this holiday season.

With so much to do, you definitely want to download the Busch Gardens app for showtimes and attraction locations. If you don’t want to download the app, grab a map for sure. With all there is going on, you may be wondering if there is a way to get it all in? And with many of the offerings starting early in the afternoon, there is sufficient time to experience all the shows and meet the characters during Christmas Town. If your goal is to ride the coasters AND attend all the seasonal offerings, then you may want to plan on spending two nights at Busch Gardens. The park truly transforms itself in to a veritable winter wonderland (minus the snow). Nicely appointed decorations are adorning nearly every corner of the park. Familiar Christmas carols and holiday hits continually accompany your stroll down the lighted pathways.

My first stop on my merry way through Christmas Town was the show Christmas from the Heart. This show, featuring live vocals and band, is a heartwarming experience that includes many traditional Christmas hymns to provide audiences with an uplifting, inspirational show. From melodic ballads to upbeat gospel tunes, this show will likely have you clapping your hands and singing along. The show is largely unchanged from last year, but there are new costumes and lighting design. The theatre in the round design of the Stanleyville Theatre enables all guests to have an excellent view of the stage during the performance.

After rejoicing with classic Christmas carols, I had about an hour until the next show I wanted to attend, so that gave me sufficient time to book my trip to the North Pole to meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus! I absolutely adore visiting the Santa House at Christmas Town because it is warm and cozy on the inside, and Coca-Cola (the sponsor) gives it the most magical decor that practically looks like it leaped right out of a classic Coca-Cola ad from when it essentially invented the Santa that we know today. While you may think that visiting Santa when you’re in the park by yourself would be–let’s face it–kind of weird, I can tell you that the attraction hosts, Mrs. Claus, and elves still provided me with a magical experience. I mean, how often as an adult do you get a private audience with Santa??? Instead of feeling like the odd one out, Santa’s house made me feel right at home and I got to talk with them a little more than a typical guest because I had good ol’ Saint Nick all to myself. It’s no surprise that Santa wished me a merry Christmas, but I can tell that this Santa was extremely genuine in his wishes to me.

Now, as much fun as us adults and theme park fans have with Christmas Town, I imagine that the kids who get to visit the shows, lighting displays, and characters have an even more phenomenal time because to them everything is truly filled with Christmas magic. And to give you the inside scoop on experiencing Santa, Rudolph, and Elmo’s Christmas Wish is a good friend of mine who is the mother of two young children, one of whom is visiting Christmas Town for her very first time. Here is Britt Campbell (Tampa, FL):

“Busch Gardens Christmas Town once again created an incredible holiday experience this year. As a mother of a three-and-a-half-year-old and an eleven-month-old, I got to experience this year’s attractions with a fresh sense of wonder. Early in the evening, Elmo’s Christmas Wish brought joy to my entire family as we sang and clapped along to the fifteen-minute show full of holiday cheer for all ages. At Santa’s House, a pager (like you’d receive at a restaurant) allowed us to wander around and enjoy Santa’s Village until we were called to a very short line. Santa’s House was magnificent, filled with glowing decor and happy elves. Mrs. Claus entertained us as we waited our turn. Then the most picturesque and perfect Santa Claus I’ve ever met patiently listened to my son’s wishes and took pictures with all of us, but not without sending us on our merry way with cookies in hand. The second annual Rudolph experience also includes pagers this year, making the wait much more pleasant. It allowed my kids to go on rides in Pantopia until we were asked to join the line. Sam the Snowman replaced Yukon this year and was joined by Bumble, Rudolph and Clarice. My family and I enjoyed meeting and taking pictures with each character, and we even got to see Rudolph and Clarice dancing together and bringing the Christmas spirit to life. Although we didn’t see everything there was to see on opening night, we will absolutely be back to experience the rest of the magic of Christmas Town [later on this season]!” Thanks for the contribution Britt, Merry Christmas!

After my visit with Santa, I made my way over to Pantopia to the Dragon Fire Grill to watch Christmas Celebration. This is an incredibly fun show filled with comical characters, heartwarming duets, and the jazzy Christmas songs that you can’t help but dance to. Santa makes several appearances and even makes special time with the kids in the audience. I especially enjoyed the Santa Baby number, and the singers costume was killer! Gracing the stage is a beautiful set design that creates the most festive atmosphere. I always have so much fun at this show! And I am sure you will too, so make time to watch Christmas Celebration!

Following Christmas Celebration, I had to dash across the North Pole and back to the front of the park for my absolute favorite show at Christmas Town. You do not want to miss Christmas On Ice playing at the Moroccan Palace Theatre (home to the former Turn It Up ice show). Nothing says Christmas like a beautifully choreographed mesmerizing figure skating show. Having met the cast during the run of Turn It Up, I can say for a fact that they absolutely love putting on a magical show for audiences at Busch Gardens and the full complement of cast and technical crew look forward to every single show, especially the limited time holiday spectacular! Although the song numbers are largely the same as last year, the set is greatly enhanced by the LED video wall that was installed for Turn It Up. It provides the perfect backdrop for every number that the cast performs during the show. Experience Christmas magic, memories, and more at Christmas On Ice “the COOLEST show on ice.”

An attraction that I love to experience at every Christmas Town is the Singalong Train! It’s so much fun to board the decked out holiday train with hundreds of other park guests and sing familiar Christmas carols while riding through the Serengeti Safari. I grew up Christmas caroling with my family, so this is the perfect opportunity to wax nostalgic and allow the holiday cheer to completely fill me as I spread holiday goodness around the park with the other guests. Not having been to every theme park holiday celebration in the U.S., I cannot say whether or not this is unique to Busch Gardens or not, but if it isn’t the only one, it certainly is one of few parks that offers a railway caroling experience! From Jingle Bells to Walking in a Winter Wonderland, you’ll get to sing many of your favorites.

In addition to the live shows, there are two choreographed lights shows that you will want to see. One is a giant Christmas tree in Jungala and the other is the Crown Colony House, home to the Serengeti Overlook restaurant. Both attractions dance throughout the evening so you can easily catch the brief shows. You’ll find clips from these and the other shows in our video!

If you are planing a trip to the theme parks of Central Florida, you definitely want to make time to spend a day at Busch Gardens for Christmas Town. Of all the parks in the area, it certainly has the most events and limited time engagements going on. Nearly every area of the park is busting with lights Whether you’re young or simply young at heart, there is something for everyone.