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Sports in the Movies: “Cool Runnings” and “I, Tonya”

The Olympics is fertile ground for motion pictures. While it has drama with a worldwide spotlight, the Olympics is also fertile ground for comedy. The great comic director Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is what happens to me, comedy is what happens to you”.  Therefore, in the danger and defeat of the Olympics, one can find comedy. So, when you are taking a break from all the drama of the Beijing Winter Olympics, check out these comedies with an Olympic flavor.

“Cool Runnings” is a light-hearted Disney comedy based on a true story. In Hollywood, “based on” usually means that someone hears of the actual event and then decides to make a movie that has only the slightest relationship to the real thing. According to the real participants, there was a Jamaican bobsled team and they crash their sled. Everything else is from the imagination of the screen writers. As the screen writers conceived it, a Jamaican sprinter, Derice Bannock, does not qualify for the Summer Olympics. While at the Jamaican Olympic Association offices, he sees a picture of his gold medalist father standing next to a former Olympic bobsledder (played by John Candy) who conveniently lives in Jamaica and the rest is history … as told by Hollywood. Derice must convince the bobsledder to coach them, he must gather his team, and overcome various obstacles to get to the 1988 Winter Games.  It is not a great movie, but is a pretty good comedy that the entire family can watch. I mean, John Candy is always fun to watch.

“I, Tonya” is also based on a true story, but is on the other end of the comedy spectrum, with much dark humor. It also seems to adhere more closely to real events than “Cool Runnings”. It is a dark comedy/biopic based on the life of Tonya Harding, a gifted figure skater from a lower socioeconomic level, who can never fit in with the upper tier skating community. She has poor taste in men and no choice in abusive family. The film begins with Harding as a child showing great promise as a figure skater. Her mom, LaVona (Allison Janney), is a chain smoking, no-nonsense woman, who is whole heartedly willing to use mental, verbal, and physical abuse to shape her little diamond-in-the-rough into one of the premier figure skaters in the world. The adult Harding (Margo Robbie), in part looking to escape her overbearing mom, marries the alternately goofy and abusive husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).  You come away from the movie wondering how she ever reached the 1994 Winter Olympics and what could have happened if she had, had better people around her. With an R rating, this is definitely a movie aimed at adults.


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