I, Tonya (2017)

  • Time: 119 min
  • Genre: Biography | Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Craig Gillespie
  • Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale


Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

2 reviews

  • “I was loved…for a minute. Then I was hated. Then I was just a punchline,” That statement sums up the tragic, totally American saga of Tonya Harding, whose talents as a skater were overshadowed first by her trailer trash background and then by “the Incident.” More than a typical rise-and-fall tale, Harding’s story arrived at a time when celebrity culture was firmly taking root, when credible news outlets were beginning to turn into televised gossip rags in order to feed the increasingly ravenous 24-hour news cycle.

    Harding’s wasn’t the only scandal being devoured by the public – Amy Fisher made headlines as the “Long Island Lolita” who shot her married lover’s wife in 1992, the trial of the Menendez Brothers began airing on Court TV in 1993, O.J. Simpson riveted viewers as he was pursued by the Los Angeles police down the freeway in a white Ford Bronco in 1994, and child pageant beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey’s murder shocked the nation in 1995. In 1994, in the middle of all these sordid scandals, came the attack on American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s rival and Olympic teammate, one which played perfectly into the media narrative of the princess being sullied by the working-class redneck. I, Tonya, the scabrous pitch-black comedy fuelled by a ferocious lead performance by Margot Robbie as Harding, is a self-proclaimed “irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true” rendering of the events leading up to that attack, but it also functions as a satirical observation of class and the nature of truth.

    Shot as a faux documentary with characters often breaking the fourth wall, the film quickly introduces audiences to its motley crew of characters. There’s her mother LaVona (an absolutely terrific Allison Janney), hard-bitten and oozing toxic negativity from every pore, who believes her verbal and physical abuse inspires her daughter to skate better. In stark contrast to LaVona’s ghastly mothering, there’s the genteel Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), who fosters Tonya’s impressive abilities but warns that skating competitively is not just about having the talent, it’s fitting into the image the judges have of what a figure skater should be. Tonya does anything but fit into that mould – she’s foul-mouthed, abrasive, not above touting her talent, but also quick to blame everyone but herself (“It wasn’t my fault” becomes a constant refrain). She softens a little when she meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), the first guy to ever find her pretty and who appears to be a way out from her suffocating life with LaVona. Yet Jeff, too, turns out to be just another abuser though, like LaVona, he denies ever inflicting any abuse.

    The film’s kaleidoscopic narrative approach not only means everyone gets to tell their own version of the truth, but it also allows screenwriter Steven Rogers and Gillespie the opportunity to demonstrate how each character, save for Diane, manoeuvres to be more than a mere satellite orbiting Tonya. When the film shifts its focus on Tonya and Jeff’s crumbing marriage, LaVona shoves herself back into the fray to complain, “Well, my storyline is disappearing. What. The. F**k.” Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), Jeff’s friend and Tonya’s bodyguard and one of the main orchestrators of Kerrigan’s attack, presents himself as some super secret operative even though he might be one of the most supremely dumb human beings to ever grace the planet.

    Whilst the filmmakers are sympathetic to their subject, neither they nor Robbie ever let Harding off the hook. Yes, Harding was a badass. Yes, she was the first American woman to ever land the notoriously difficult triple axel in competition. Yes, it was unfair that it was more about the image than it was about the skating. Yet, whilst she’s all too ready to credit herself for her triumphs, Harding constantly refuses to hold herself accountable for the failures. “It wasn’t my fault,” she tells LaVona, who rails into her when she receives low scores at the 1986 Skate America competition. “That wasn’t my fault,” she screams at Diane after she tells one of the judges to “suck her d**k.” “That wasn’t my fault,” she insists when she fails to land the triple axel at the 1992 Winter Olympics though a montage of her partying hard says otherwise. “Nancy gets hit one time, and the whole world s**ts. For me, it’s an all the time occurrence,” she observes with more than a hint of bitterness. For Tonya, everyone is an abuser – LaVona, Jeff, the judges, the media – but she keeps getting back up and giving as good as she gets.

    It’s a tricky line I, Tonya treads – the abuse Tonya suffers isn’t played for laughs, but it does often jar with the film’s mordantly comic tone – but it succeeds due to Robbie’s sensational portrayal. Robbie did portions of her own skating, which heavily contributes to the dynamic skating sequences, and, whilst she doesn’t necessarily resemble Harding, she electrifyingly incarnates both aspects of Harding as unconventional heroine and victim.

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  • I, Tonya is my latest write-up. It’s a biographical pic following the skating career of one Tonya Harding and her subsequent involvement in the Nancy Kerrigan baton assault. In “Tonya”, Harding is painted as sympathetic and misread. She gets beaten, put down, and inhabits an unsafe, toxic existence.

    About four days ago, I prematurely put out my top ten movie picks for 2017. After seeing I, Tonya with its ice skating sequences shot so fervently, I think I’m gonna have to make a swift revision.

    I, Tonya may feel like a bullet point presentation of Harding’s 20-year figure skating career from age 4 to age 24. And yeah, I’m not a huge fan of inserted interviews (of the present day personas) that reek of cliche. However, because Tonya Harding was such a polarizing figure and because I remember a lot of the news coverage from 1994, I feel that director Craig Gillespie makes the proceedings a little more special anyway.

    “Tonya” is feverishly paced, with pinpoint storytelling, deadpan performances, a biting 70’s soundtrack, and some nifty match edits (towards the flick’s conclusion). It’s equal parts satiric, upsetting, funny, and in a way, heartbreaking.

    I, Tonya’s wiki page claims that it’s a black comedy. I’m not sure on that one. I’d rather call it a comedy-drama that makes you wriggle. “Tonya” contains filthy, ferocious dialogue, a measure of sucker punch barrage, and an unabashed, wink wink to the audience (a lot of the actors talk right into the camera during regular scenes).

    Come Academy Awards time, I’m hoping that Margot Robbie (as Harding) and Allison Janney (as Harding’s nasty mom LaVona) get nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively. Robbie may not look like Tonya Harding but her transformation and raw containment still comes to fruition. As for Janney, well she gives LaVona Harding a standoffish parka and some vile, spit-fire discourse to accompany her character.

    In conclusion, I, Tonya projects like it’s touched by the cast of Duck Dynasty or the nincompoops that inhabit the The Jerry Springer Show. Its white trash residue and its sledgehammering of squeamish behavior surprisingly make it a near-perfect film. Rating: 3 and a half stars.

    Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

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