Over 20 years after the infamous day in 1994 Craig Gillespe and Steven Rogers take on the life and career of former Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding.
Tonya grew up in Portland, Oregon as an only child in a poor family with her abusive, overbearing mother LaVona. At age four she began to figure skate, and it is quickly evident that throughout her life she would have to work twice as hard to get the same recognition for her talent as the other girls. Although Tonya was an incredible skater, because her family was so poor she was looked at entirely differently. During the course of her career she faces ups and downs, one of which is her relationship with Jeff Gillooly. At the beginning, their relationship was great but things change and Jeff begins to abuse Tonya. Despite how toxic, their relationship continues through the 1992 Winter Olympics in which she fails to land her jumps and finishes fourth ending her career. Miraculously it is announced that the Olympics will be held again in 1994, in two years rather than the usual four, giving Tonya the chance to compete again. She later receives a death threat before a competition and decides not to compete. This ignites Jeff’s idea to send a death threat to Tonya’s competition, Nancy Kerrigan. Things go awry, leading to the infamous moment where an unseen attacker whacks Nancy in the knee with a baton, potentially ruining her ability to compete. The FBI investigates and arrests Jeff along with his bumbling self-proclaimed secret agent accomplice Shawn Eckardt, sentencing them to 18 months in prison. Tonya receives community service time and a permanent ban from competitive figure skating, effective immediately. She continues to find cheap ways to stay in the limelight to pay bills, while Jeff later admits he knows he was the reason her skating career ended.
Styled as a mockumentary, this film warns the audience right away that it’s based off of both true and ‘contradictory’ statements, setting the dark comedic tone. Throughout the film Tonya (played by Margot Robbie), Jeff (Sebastian Stan), and LaVona (Allison Janney) give one-on-one interviews discussing various points in the story from their perspective, often conflicting what one or the other says about the same memory. It’s apparent right away that almost everyone is full of crap most of the time. As time goes on it becomes easier to sympathize with Tonya and the way her life turned out. You start to see that maybe she didn’t know about the severity of the attack, that she was really victim to the lies and manipulation of her husband. By the end of the film, I found myself totally on Tonya’s side.
There are a few components of this film that make it so appealing, especially visually. Robbie and Janney deliver some of the most compelling performances yet, completely nailing their personas in a way that give them a depth you wouldn’t expect from such simple characters. On top of this the cinematography catches your eye, they managed to take one of the most beautiful actresses of all time and make her so incredibly drab, yet every time she performs it’s dazzling. The editing keeps scenes exciting, and feels like you’re out on the ice with her. Not to mention the soundtrack is spot-on, noticeable but never distracting.
I, Tonya is two hours of inventive, eye-catching, comedic drama with some stellar performances from the cast and refreshing flow. Regardless of where you think the truth lies in the events on the day Nancy Kerrigan was attacked, this movie is really enjoyable and is sure to suck you in.
Available to stream on Hulu!