Spoiler Klaxon

It’s that time of winter when watching figure skating and not moving for hours seems like a healthy way to exist.

A refers to this entire month as “It’s time to jump.”

We’ve been keeping ourselves busy by catching up on movies, trying new restaurants, and listening for another meteor.

A and I went to see The Shape of Water, which I’d been eagerly awaiting as a huge Guillermo del Toro fan. It is gorgeous and whimsical and romantic and should win all the awards. A enjoyed it as well, although she had some reservations about the human/fish creature romance, which is fine, it’s supposed to be provocative, that’s what great cinema does!

“Is he a pet? A lover? A sex slave? We don’t know!” she said. I thought that might make a good poster quote.


It’s a wonderful movie with themes of institutionalized racism, homophobia, and ableism and how people from different oppressed groups can overcome isolation and fear and band together to fight for freedom (or the freedom of one gentle fish man), plus there’s a dance number, what’s not to love?

Although (spoiler warning) a cat does die. The fish man gets hungry. He doesn’t understand the world of people!

A did not like that, not one bit. “I wouldn’t help the fish man if he ate a cat,” she said. “Cat murder is worse than regular murder.”

IMG_0137I thought that would make a good poster too.

Now A is up for more movies. “Is the Maze Runner from the same guy who did Shape of Water?” she asked.

“What?” I said, doing mental backflips. Who had so badly misled her? I would take them down.

“You said he did a movie about mazes.”

“. . . oh no. I told you about Pan’s Labyrinth,” I said. That’s on me.

So a few days later, my whole pack went to see I, Tonya in our best ’90s garb (windbreakers, scrunchies, and a shiny metallic jacket that my sister bought at Target twenty minutes before the movie started, and wore out of the store).

Stella and A both grabbed my hands and silently screamed with me when Nancy went down. I’ve been obsessed with the Tonya/Nancy story since I was a little girl. I remember exactly where I was when I heard what happened—in the drive-thru at Taco Bell. My mom thought that would be a good time to tell an anxiety-prone child that a famous figure skater had been attacked out of nowhere only forty-five minutes from said Taco Bell.

“I guess some crazy person is running around Detroit whacking ladies in the knee,” said my mom.

Being an anxiety-prone, egocentric child, my first thought was “Oh god. I’m next.”

I had only quit figure skating like two years earlier, of course I had reason to fear. I never made it past the panicky flailing toddler stage, but I still could have been a threat for the national title.

This is my foremost memory of my figure skating career: a scrunchie-wearing teenager says, “It’s okay, just skate backwards, you won’t fall,” and then I shake my head, “No.”

“This is so terrible for our image,” said my mom, as we pulled up to the window. “They’re saying he could be anywhere!”

”Anywhere” of course meaning “Right behind us in the Taco Bell drive-thru,” which is where I assumed he was.

Anyway, I’ve been fascinated by the story ever since, and have only been waiting twenty-four years for some kind of quality theatrical depiction, and even with those insurmountable expectations, I really enjoyed I, Tonya. To tell the story as a black comedy more than a straight biopic is really the only way it could ever be done, and the quirky tone is so immaculately controlled that it never calls attention to itself. The tabloid caricatures we all know seem more human than they were ever allowed to be, without ever losing the sense of incredulity that these people could actually exist.

Several times, A nudged me to ask, “Did that really happen?” and I had to say, “Yes!”

Especially during the attack scene, when the assailant, who was carrying a metal baton, chose to smash his way through a plate glass door with his head.

Or when Tonya skated over to the judges in tears during her final Olympic skate, after she’d made it out onto the ice with only seconds to spare before disqualification.

“That didn’t happen, right?” said A.

“Oh, it happened,” I said. “The only thing they got wrong is the music. She skated to Jurassic Park.”

“YES SHE DID!” said Stella. She was rocking out to the soundtrack the entire movie. It’s a good thing we were in the back row.

It’s true that Margot Robbie is way too pretty to play Tonya, but she does such a good job, it doesn’t matter. She nails the voice, the entitlement, and most importantly, the weird alchemy of likability and repulsiveness that the real Tonya has. Every interview I’ve ever seen of Tonya, I have that thought, “You know, she actually seems like an okay person,” but once I actually register what she’s saying, I’m horrified.

What Margot Robbie really accomplishes is making Tonya seem more sympathetic than the real Tonya ever could, without sacrificing the rough edges and ambition and nastiness that made Tonya the person everyone loves to hate, even twenty-four years later.

The most amazing thing about how her story has morphed and mutated over the years is the fact that it doesn’t even matter anymore if she planned the attack or had nothing to do with it or when she knew what about anything. Not even Tonya knows anymore. All she has to her name is notoriety. She will happily trot herself out for an exclusive interview every few years, tearfully proclaiming her innocence in one and then cagily admitting some vague and legally undefinable culpability with a shrug and a smile in the the next. She’ll do this until the day she dies. Because she’s a monster of our own creation.

Unlike the adorable fish man, who was born in the Amazon and just wanted to go home!

So by all means, see these movies. If you really want to make the most of it, spring for those luxury seats where you can put your feet up, sit in the back row so you freely pass snacks between yourself and your compatriots.

And if you’re seeing I, Tonya, wear a windbreaker. It just feels right.

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