Tonya Harding has been a nefarious figure in America since the attack on her Olympic teammate Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, but is she deserving of such a reputation? Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya ultimately poses that question, as he takes the viewer back to the event through the lens of Harding and her husband Jeff Gillooly. The film tells Harding’s story from her childhood to her successful figure skating career, while erasing the misconceptions portrayed in the media over two decades ago. Reminding the audience that she didn’t take the baton to Kerrigan’s knee herself, but rather, was a victim of circumstance caught up in the awful deeds of men.
This impeccable dark comedy explores Harding’s disadvantaged and tough upbringing at the hands of her abusive mother, her marriage to an equally abusive husband, and her skating career. It earns its title as a dark comedy as Gillespie tackles Harding’s hardship in a comical way. It’s not limited to this, as the gravity of her situation is still there; however, there are quips of dialogue amongst the chaos that will make the audience laugh, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Harding’s career is portrayed as being doomed from the start. Despite being the best skater in the world at the time, one of the few who could land the triple axel, she was never allowed to be the best. The judges, and America, didn’t think she looked right, dressed right, and being from an impoverished background, she didn’t represent the prosperous, all American family. Therefore, she was given lower scores to prevent her from claiming her gold.
A large portion of the film also tackles “the incident.” To do this, Gillespie uses a documentary style tactic by incorporating interviews with Harding, Gillooly, Harding’s “bodyguard” Shawn Eckhardt, and her mother LaVona, all recreated by the actors themselves. These interviews provide a different side to the infamous story, and for the sake of audiences who don’t know anything about Tonya Harding or who believe she had a hand in the incident, Gillespie’s telling and revelations are best experienced in the theatre. The film certainly leaves room for opinion, but aims to give a more compassionate view of Harding, almost aiding in a kind of redemption.
The cast is brilliant, with Sebastian Stan displaying his acting chops away from the Marvel franchise as Harding’s overbearing husband Gillooly, and Paul Walter Hauser, as the nearly identical twin to Eckhardt, the nutty mastermind behind the Kerrigan attack. The standouts are, of course, Margot Robbie and Allison Janney who have been receiving award nominations for their performance, and for good reason. Janney completely transforms in appearance and demeanour, making her unrecognizable as the witch-like LaVona Harding. Margot Robbie also embodies Harding perfectly—in appearance, but even more so in the emotion she carries throughout. She is doing her finest work here, and she even learned how to figure skate for the role to the point where she was able to recreate entire sequences of Harding’s routines.
The cinematography completely enthralls and captivates the audience during the endless figure skating routines like a perfectly executed blockbuster action sequence. This, along with the performances and new spin on the disgraced figure skater, makes I, Tonya an award season must see.
(Featured Image: I, Tonya, Neon)