“I, Tonya” Ranks High on the Scale
Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding, was one of the most hated people in America in the early 90s due to one of the most astonishing scandals in sports. The rivalry between Harding and America’s skating sweetheart, Nancy Kerrigan, led to an attack on Kerrigan as she was clubbed with a police baton several weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympics. Although Harding was an accomplished figure skater, in fact she was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with this infamous scandal.
Based on true events, this dark yet comedic drama receives high scores. I, Tonya is the portrayal of Harding’s life and career and the extent of Harding’s underprivileged upbringing in a broken household may not be known to most. Despite the harsh reality of Harding’s background, the script is able to soften the brutality by weaving humor into the storyline. Audiences may find themselves gasping and cheering in the same scene and some may even end up rooting for Harding in the end. Directed by Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours), this film is insightful and self-aware – pulling audiences’ emotions in several different directions at the same time.
Harding’s tactless nature and bold yet unkempt appearance did not do her any favors when it came to the judging panel. They often used her appearance and background against her, deducting valuable points, despite having what would likely be a perfect score – 6.0. In one scene, she is approached by a judge in a parking garage post competition where they begin to have a composed conversation. She kindly asks what more she needs to do to get the scores she deserves and the judge bluntly admits that she’s simply not “America’s sweetheart” material.
Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, 2016) plays the crass, difficult and lonesome Harding and is excellent in her role. Faced with neglect, abandonment and verbal and physical abuse, it is no wonder that Harding built a wall around herself and let few people in. LaVona, Tonya’s abrasive, chain-smoking mother played by Allison Janney (The Girl on the Train, 2016) is a multifaceted character. When Harding was a ‘soft four,’ as LaVona describes it, she was determined to make her daughter a professional skater and despite being told Harding was too young, she wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. This rough around the edges and stubborn mother worked multiple waitressing shifts to pay for Harding’s lessons and sewed her daughter’s own costumes. While supportive on the ice, however, LaVona continuously abused Harding, both verbally and physically. Janney plays each side of LaVona exceptionally and will likely earn herself an Oscar nomination. Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, Logan Lucky, 2017) and his low-life bodyguard friend, Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) add to Harding’s hardships not only with abuse, but ultimately worse for her, their own stupidity. The duo decided to take it upon themselves to ensure Harding had a shot at the Olympic gold medal and this means hiring a hit man to injure the leading lady, a scandal that rocked the sports world.
Bottom Line: Margot Robbie successfully encapsulates the controversial Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. Allison Janney’s performance as Tonya’s unapologetically abrasive and filthy-mouthed mother is reason enough to view the dark, yet comedic film.
Credits: Directed by Craig Gillespie; Written by Steven Rogers
Cast: Margot Robbie (Tonya Harding), Allison Janney (LaVona Golden), Sebastian Stan (Jeff Gillooly), Paul Walter Hauser (Shawn Eckhardt), Julianne Nicolson (Diane Rawlinson)
Running Time: 119 minutes
Jessica DeLong © December 22, 2017