Lighter Side: A great day at the movies

This past weekend, I was looking for a movie with a strong woman character. I found, not one, but three such films, all at the Roslyn Cinema! “The Post,” “Molly’s Game,” and “I, Tonya.”

How to choose? I couldn’t. So I saw all three.

The ticket seller was very helpful as I explained my mission. However, we were interrupted mid-conversation by a man who stepped up and asked for tickets — without so much as an “excuse me.” As if I were invisible. As if I weren’t even there.

So I said it for him. “Excuse me. I’m right here, buying tickets myself.”

That’s what has made me a feminist. It’s happened so many times, in Starbucks alone, that I call it “the Starbucks phenomenon” — baristas finally finishing with the person in front of me, only to turn and ask the man behind me for his order.

I may be short, but I’m quite large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

It’s not just at Starbucks, and it isn’t just me. Ask Katharine Graham!

Several times, Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” shows Mrs. Graham as the only woman in a room full of white men … and even though she is there as the owner and publisher of the paper, her remarks are ignored until men make the very same point. Men who work for her.

Watching “The Post,” you know you are in the hands of a master story teller; and Meryl Streep convinces as no one else can.

You feel Graham’s distress at being torn between financial obligations, personal friendships, and a desire to preserve her children’s inheritance — all at war with the irreplaceable importance of the press in an endangered democracy.

It’s as much a movie about its own time — when reporting meant having a pocket full of quarters for a pay phone — as it is about ours.

“Molly’s Game” is literally about high stakes — the dazzling wins and losses in high-priced poker games that the real-life Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) ran in Los Angeles and New York.

It is no surprise to learn that Aaron Sorkin, patron saint of fast-talking characters, wrote the script. The surprise is how deftly Sorkin handles his first time directing.

I went into “I, Tonya” wondering why this movie needed to be made. I remembered Tonya Harding as the skater who was somehow implicated in a brutal attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan, just before the 1994 Olympics in which both were scheduled to compete.

Many have stressed both what a horrow show Harding’s mother was (allegedly committing both physical and mental cruelty) and what a terrific job Allison Janney has done in portraying her. Good points. But…

Tonya’s basic argument is that the figure skating world never saw her as anything but “white trash,” so she never had a chance. This, even though she was the only woman in the world who could do a triple Axel.

In one scene, Tonya chases down a judge and demands of him why, when she did more and better jumps than any other girl in the competition, did she still not win?

He answers that skating is about more than just jumping; the winner will represent the United States, so all of a skater’s “presentation” is part of the score.

This is just one of many things that Tonya thinks is unfair. Whether it’s her impoverished background or a broken shoelace, nothing is ever her fault; the game is rigged; there is no such thing as the truth.

I was forcibly reminded of another “trailer trash” icon, this one currently in the White House, who would gleefully say — or Tweet — all the same points.

But here’s the thing. You can’t cherrypick which aspects of a sport you want to be scored on. What’s the point of learning to do a triple Axel, something valued by skating, if you sneer at and refuse to do everything else they want?

Besides: Harding had been dealt a few aces as well. For starters, phenomenal athletic ability. Also, she was white and blond.

Compare her with Surya Bonaly, a black French skater of the same years. Bonaly, too, had more athleticism than grace (perhaps you remember her amazing, illegal, backflip in 1998). She, too, felt unfairly shut out of the top prizes.

But all Tonya had to do was bow, and smile prettily for the judges, something she ultimately chose not to do; there was nothing Bonaly could do about the color of her skin.

I did come away with a somewhat greater sympathy for Harding than I had before. But I’d have had still more if she’d ever taken responsibility for anything in her life.

That’s why it is “Molly’s Game,” and especially “The Post,” which I recommend you see.

About the author

Judy Epstein

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