To See or Not to See: I, Tonya
Ice skater Tonya Harding’s life story, both pre-and-post-infamous knee smashing, is explored in the engaging film, I, Tonya. For those of you that are too young to remember Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and the 1994 Olympics, I, Tonya will draw you in. For those of you that do remember all the crazy details, the film will make you think twice about ice skating’s favorite villain.
The story of Tonya Harding (played at various stages of her life by Maizie Smith, Mckenna Grace, and, finally, Margot Robbie) begins in Oregon. A prodigy skater at three-and-a-half, Harding came from a poor family–unlike all the other skaters who had the money for beautiful costumes and top-notch gear. Another difference between Tonya and other skaters? Her family was run by a ruthless, abusive mother LaVona (Allison Janney). Eventually, she meets her first husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). While he seemingly swoops in to save her from her mother, Jeff also turns out to be abusive. I won’t go into the sensational story of Tonya, her husband, and/or his friend Shawn (a hilarious Paul Walter Hauser) planning the attack on America’s sweetheart ice skater Nancy Kerrigan, but that is obviously a big part of I, Tonya.
So, mix Tonya’s personal life in with constant competitions where she has to fight to win a rightful place on the winner’s podium, and you have the makings of a surprising anti-heroine. Margot Robbie plays Tonya with a natural ease, sharp attitude, and hidden vulnerability. It is no small feat to make a hated public figure a complex human that audiences will care about. In short, Robbie shines. Another amazing performance in I, Tonya is that of Allison Janney. She is riveting on screen. And, Sebastian Stan and Paul Walter Hauser are also strong.
The style of the film is another element that makes it engaging. Directer Craig Gillespie showcases the characters in unexpected ways. For instance, rather than telling the audience how to feel about a character in an emotional scene, Gillespie will not use a close-up shot; that circumvents the tradition style. The tightly-written script by Steven Rogers jumps between present-day interviews with Tonya, Jeff, and LaVona and the past. Breaking the fourth wall with the characters like that is a brilliant move. It gives new perspective and keeps the story fresh. It brings into question memory and truth. Can they be trusted? How is memory shaped by what you want to be true?
I, Tonya will have you re-thinking everything you thought you knew about Tonya Harding all the while being entertained. It’s bonkers in the best way possible.
Photo Credit: Neon