‘I, Tonya’ is a smash with Utah audiences — but why?

The Cricket • A comedy about the scandalous end of Harding’s skating career is another example of our fascination with losers.

This image released by Neon shows Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in a scene from "I, Tonya." Robbie says she really wants to tie on skates and get back on the ice over the Christmas holiday. She learned to ice skate for her role as figure skater Tonya Harding but her contracts on three other films have prevented her from getting back on the blades.. (Neon via AP)

If you’re a busy person, and a movie fan, sometimes a lazy Sunday morning is the optimum time to catch a good movie.

So thought my editor last weekend, when she ventured out for a Sunday matinee at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in downtown Salt Lake City — and encountered a noontime line at the box office that extended from the theater’s recessed entrance all the way to the parking garage on 300 South.

Leaving the theater around 2:15, she saw an even longer line.

It was a surprisingly busy weekend at the Broadway, according to the Salt Lake Film Society, the nonprofit that operates that theater and the Tower Theatre.

“There’s just such good content right now, and we’ve got the A-list of that,” said Tori Baker, executive director of the Salt Lake Film Society.

January at the arthouse is when the platformed releases that opened in New York and Los Angeles in December (to qualify for the Academy Awards) start trickling down to the regional markets, like Salt Lake City. This weekend, the acclaimed gay romance “Call Me by Your Name” opens, while next weekend it’s Daniel Day-Lewis’ swan-song performance in “Phantom Thread” and Michael Haneke’s feel-bad French family drama “Happy End.”

And the arthouse has been, in early January, a chance to escape the “summer movies opening at Christmas” syndrome Baker sees in the mainstream multiplexes. The blockbuster “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has dominated theaters since its Dec. 15 opening, and, as Baker said, “‘Jumanji’ is doing well, and that’s a classic June or July movie.”

The big arthouse opening last weekend, and one of the reasons the Broadway was seeing so much business, was “I, Tonya,” director Craig Gillespie’s acid-tongued satirical comedy chronicling the career of Olympic skater and tabloid sensation Tonya Harding.

“I, Tonya” had one of the better per-screen averages last weekend, $9,554 on 256 screens, for a total domestic gross of $2.44 million. Baker said the Broadway did slightly better than the national average.

Baker has a few theories about why “I, Tonya” attracted Salt Lake City moviegoers.

It could be the trainwreck fascination with Harding’s career, which ended with the scandal involving an idiotic plot by associates of her husband, Jeff Gillooly, to injure rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. It could be the archly comic bent Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers applied to the story. Or it could be the performances, which earned Margot Robbie (who played Harding) a Golden Globe nomination and won co-star Allison Janney (as Harding’s unrelentingly harsh mom) a Globe that same Sunday night.

This image released by Neon shows Allison Janney as LaVona Golden from "I, Tonya." (Neon via AP)

Or, Baker speculated, it could be the fact that since Salt Lake City is a one-time host city for the Winter Olympics (eight years after Harding and Kerrigan’s face-off), we have a thing for figure skating. “We are really fascinated with that sport,” Baker said.

I’m not as enamored of “I, Tonya” as many critics, but through its shrill humor at the expense of redneck stereotypes, I have an inkling of its popularity. It falls to the universal appeal of underdogs and losers.

In that way, “I, Tonya” fits as a nice companion to James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist,” as both find laughs in the floundering of clueless nobodies. In the case of “I, Tonya,” it’s Gillooly (played by Sebastian Stan) and the idiots he paid to rattle Kerrigan, idiots who took the plan too far. With “The Disaster Artist,” it’s Franco’s take on Z-grade moviemaker Tommy Wiseau and his talentless creation, “The Room,” that became a cult hit of shared embarrassment.

If you don’t think we care about losers more than winners, consider the story of Lias Andersson, the 19-year-old captain of Sweden’s junior national hockey team. At the World Junior championships in Buffalo, also last weekend, Sweden lost in the final — and, when he was given his silver medal, Andersson threw it dejectedly into the crowd.

But Andersson’s throw ended up becoming a viral video seen worldwide, and people are going to remember the angry Swedish kid who lost the championship long after they forget who won the game. (It was Team Canada, by the way, 3-1.)

Tonya Harding arrives at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

As if to prove that point even further, at Sunday’s Golden Globes, Hollywood’s perennial also-ran to the Academy Awards, Harding accompanied Robbie to the ceremony. Wiseau was there, too, and even went up onstage when Franco won his Globe — causing Franco to strong-arm him to keep him away from the mic.

Harding’s story is more interesting than Kerrigan’s. Wiseau’s spectacular failure carries more drama than the behind-the-scenes story of a good movie. Here’s to the losers, as Frank Sinatra once sang — bless them all.