Movie Review: I, Tonya
I, Tonya, the biographical film about ice skater Tonya Harding, has been in theaters since December but has finally gained a wider release over the past two weeks. The film is directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers. The film stars Margot Robbie as Harding with Alison Janney portraying her mother, LaVona Fay Golden. The supporting cast is also comprised of Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, Caitlin Carver, and Bobby Cannavale. It has been surrounded by award buzz since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and has since gone on to accrue three Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for Robbie, Best Supporting Actress for Janney, and Best Editing.
The story starts out in the 1970’s with a young Tonya Harding being pushed into skating by her abusive mother. She is coached by Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), and she remains under her coaching into her teenage years. Tonya’s mother eventually has her quit school to further her skating career, and while she is an excellent skater, her poor upbringing hinders her favor with the judges at competitions. During this time she also meets and begins a relationship with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who ends up becoming abusive. The rest of the film follows Tonya’s journey as she becomes the first woman to successfully execute two triple axels and also as she becomes embroiled with the attack on fellow ice skater Nancy Kerrigan.
I will be the first one to say that I did not believe I wanted or needed a movie about Tonya Harding; however, I immensely enjoyed this movie. Harding is a controversial figure after the attack on Kerrigan, but Rogers and Gillespie manage to craft her story in a way to where no real answers are given. The format of the film works perfectly with mock documentary interviews dispersed between Harding’s story from childhood to after the attack. They also have several moments where the fourth wall is broken, and in doing so, they make this movie all the more hilarious. It quickly becomes a story where the truth is not given, and it leans into all the irony and inconsistencies that exist from everyone’s account of what happened. It’s brilliantly crafted, and while some may not appreciate the editing and various cuts, I think it deserves the Academy Award nomination it has received for Best Editing.
While I love the way the story is crafted and the different elements of the film, it is the performances that make it shine. Alison Janney’s portrayal of Tonya’s mother is fantastic and cringe-worthy all at the same time. Her performance helps the audience to understand a little more of Tonya’s background and mindset, and as Janney herself has said, she’s “a mother of a character.” I genuinely enjoyed Sebastian Stan as well, and I was impressed with the comedic chops he displays in this role. Then, of course, Margot Robbie is brilliant as Tonya Harding. She is almost unrecognizable with her frizzy hair, and she completely disappears in her portrayal of Harding. She delivers on the heartbreaking and highly ironic moments that accompany this character, and she somehow makes Tonya Harding not necessarily a likable character but at least a sympathetic one.
Needless to say, I, Tonya was a delightfully surprising film. It has moments where it is incredibly hilarious, but it details some of the more tragic moments of her life as well. Also, I love the way they highlight and debate the idea of the truth throughout the entire film. It delivers on the ironic and the unexpected, and in doing so, it delivers the only type of movie that could have explored Tonya Harding’s story. It is not a family film by any means with its language and violence, but I, Tonya is an unorthodox biopic that is sure to keep your attention.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.