Day Seven, Cinépolis Chelsea, I, Tonya

“Cute–“ the one-word review a friend texted, having seen what I was about to watch, in an enormous, overheated, nearly empty chain cinema in the Chelsea neighborhood of bloody freezing Manhattan — gave me pause.

Is “cute” how I want to conclude my week-long movie immersion? I settled on it instead of Annette Bening’s “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” which threatened to be mawkish, and “Phantom Thread,” Daniel Day-Lewis’s swan song or so he says, because I wanted some fun, goddamit. Maybe my mouth won’t be stuffed with Junior Mints, but I’m willing to have Hollywood give me a good time for my movie ticket dollar!

However, the stylized bio-pic of the infamous figure skater disgraced for her part in attacking rival Nancy Kerrigan didn’t leave me laughing. It went along at a good pace, and contained every element of a satisfying modern movie. But after it was done, I felt a little sad, and a little mad. And embarrassed.

All the characters are mean and/or stupid, save stunning Margot Robbie’s Tonya, who longs for love and acceptance, and instead gets brutalized and humiliated, yet keeps getting up and skating on. Only when clips of the real people ran during the closing credits, the real Jeff Gillooly, Tonya’s real, awful mother, the real Tonya, did I consider, well, maybe they really were all mean and/or stupid.

Shot pseudo-documentary style, we’re addressed by Bobby Cannavale as a Hard Copy reporter recalling the fun he had covering the story. In a wry aside he says that all the news has become tabloid news. And ain’t it the truth?

Tonya and her bitter, always-drinking-and-smoking mother, Gilooly and his scheming, rotund, idiot pal — everybody’s cash-strapped, everybody’s deluded, and nobody’s getting out of this with any dignity. In our last glimpse of Tonya she lifts herself from a freshly blood-stained boxing ring, her final career move, to get back to work, taking more punches.

I was working in the promo department of a competing tabloid show, Inside Edition, when Harding’s story was making headlines. Competing for the latest juicy details was what was important. I was proud to promote our lurid versions of what happened, to drive my tabloid show past ahead of the others — we were the best! We had the biggest ratings!

I didn’t care back then, and I didn’t care today when I walked into the theater, about the actual facts of the story. I knew pretty Nancy Kerrigan had been savagely attacked by an accomplice of Harding and Gillooly, and that Harding’s career was destroyed, and Gillooly, if remembered at all, was forever immortalized in the All-American Idiot Hall of Fame.

During the end credits, the screen flashed “where are they now” data: Harding’s a good mother, she insists; Gillooly changed his name and is happily remarried. Tonya and her mother have no contact.

Maybe this was the perfect way to end my marathon, with a modern movie, very aware of itself, detached and observational, blending entertainment and pathos. A group of talented actors adding light and shadow to a sensational, ridiculous moment in American pop history. Cheesy, bombastic corporate rock music, in case we might miss the rich helping of irony being served up.

But satire and a modern self-awareness isn’t what propels me out of the house, ticket money clutched in hand, seeking a couple of hours of escape into another world. I’ve seen a lot of movies by now, more than I can remember. I’ve gone to be titillated, or educated, or chastened by facing some dark truth about war or violence, that I imagine is going to improve my outlook and better my capacity for joy. But mostly I go to the movies to be entertained.

And what I love is the look on the face of a seventeen-year-old boy, bewildered in love in Call Me By Your Name, because I feel in my chest what he’s feeling in his. I see Sally Hawkins’s mute, sensual character smitten by an otherworldly being she longs for in The Shape of Water, and I want someone to love me with that same wild silence. I recall the faces of the curator’s daughters in The Square, sitting, frightened but wondering, in the back seat of his Tesla, and I think about my own daughters, and whether they looked at me that way when I sat in the driver’s seat years ago. I peer at the composed, painted faces of earnest Chinese acrobats gazing shyly at their applauding audience, their culture foreign to me, the moment now history, but the feeling these faces evoke, so immediate and rich, and deeply shared there in the dark. That’s why I go to the movies.

(This, if you missed it, is how this whole thing started.)



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