I, Tonya: Film Review

Most people will have heard of the name Tonya Harding and will think they know all about her and what she did – so I, Tonya presents a gripping and interesting look at the figure skater’s life in an unusual biopic style.

Margot Robbie, who also produces, lands her first lead role as Harding, the daughter of a pushy, hard, seemingly unloving mother LaVona (Allison Janney), who enrols her in ice skating classes when she is really young. Tonya is very good technically, becoming the first women to land a triple axel in competition, but she is usually under-marked because of her appearance and less-than-wholesome family situation not being what the skating association is after.

Of course, it also looks at her tumultuous relationship with husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and the infamous 1994 ‘incident’ – in which Jeff’s associates bashed Harding’s rival Nancy Kerrigan in the knee with a retractable baton, leaving her injured, ahead of the Winter Olympics. Harding was banned from figure skating for life for it.

I had no idea about Harding beyond ‘the incident’ so it was fascinating getting an insight into who she was a person. I had no idea that her relationships with both her mother and her boyfriend/husband were so abusive or what actually went down during the 1994 scandal.

Problem is – both Harding and Gillooly have different and contradictory accounts about it so this biopic doesn’t tell us what happened, because we don’t actually know. It dodges this problem by centering the story on faux interviews given by them both in the present and using that as narration. It also navigates it by adopting an odd biopic style in which the characters break the fourth wall to say something like “this never actually happened”, tying in both viewpoints. It was jarring at first – after seeing one uncomfortable domestic violence episode, Robbie looks to the camera and makes a quip – I didn’t like it at first but then I got used to it.

The film leans heavily on the comedy, which makes sense because the whole incident is wild and totally beyond comprehension. I’m glad it didn’t do the straightforward ‘this is what happened’ biopic because I don’t think that would have worked considering Harding’s blunt-speaking attitude (“suck my dick” to one judge) and their contradicting stories. It is a fine balance between comedy and serious, straightforward and tongue-in-cheek and self-referential and it somehow works.

Robbie does a terrific job humanising Harding. I came away feeling so sorry for her and almost cried. It just seemed really unfair. Stan was decent, Julianne Nicholson was understated but excellent as always, but Janney really stole the show as this stone cold bitch of a mother.

I, Tonya is getting rave reviews and awards nominations and it is not at all surprising. It paints a full picture of the person Tonya Harding was, not just talking about the ‘incident’, and shows what a skilful skater she really was (the performances are really, really good) and Robbie excels in the role.

In cinemas Friday 23rd February 

Trackbacks

  1. […] much watch everything featuring Margot Robbie and she was in a run of films that I loved, from I, Tonya to Goodbye Christopher Robin, but that sadly comes to an end with Terminal, which is the perfect […]

  2. […] slick and neat one in Ocean’s 8. The documentary style and differing accounts reminded me of I, Tonya a little bit, but getting the real guys involved added so much value and I was really interested in […]

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