I, Tonya

Margot Robbie is convinced this film will change your mind about Tonya Harding. Is she a villain or a victim? Abused or abuser? The truth is, your opinion doesn’t really matter and truth doesn’t really exist. What does exist: a wholly funny film that never fails to entertain.

{In the unlikely event you’re in need of a refresher: Tonya Harding was an American figure skater in the 1990s, and competed twice in the Olympics. She was known for two things: for being the first American female to land a triple axel in competition, and for bashing in her Nancy Kerrigan’s knee.}

Margot Robbie is well-cast as Tonya Harding. She’s still just a little too pretty to play elm120117intelmovies-007-1512400299white trash, even with the poofy 90s bangs, but she comes down low and it’s pretty glorious. Sebastian Stan plays Harding’s good for nothing husband, Jeff Gillooly, and he disappears into the role of dumb fuck. Jeff’s dumb ass best friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) pretends to be an international spy even though he’s a grownup who lives with his parents. Not exactly criminal masterminds, but this is the trio that brought us the most delicious scandal of 1994 (until OJ Simpson that is – if you thought Lillehammer was competitive, try being a celebrity fuck up). But for my money, I’d have to say that the real cast stand-out was Ms. Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s mother LaVonam who, by sheer comparison, makes bathtub scum look appealing. She’s the dirtiest of dirts with not a kind word or intention in the world. If being a crummy mother was an Olympic sport, she wouldn’t have to resort to breaking any kneecaps.

The first thing that may surprise you about this film is that it’s funny. Actually funny, though pretty dark – the kind of laughs you feel slightly guilty about succumbing to, but you’ll need to just embrace the absurdity. It is farcical, in the way only a true story can be when it’s populated with idiots.

The second thing that surprised me anyway, was that it actually does dredge up sympathy for our poor Tonya. Her guilt (or innocence) is not really the point. This is Tonya’s story, hers alone from beginning to end. No one’s trying to excuse what happened, but putting “the incident” within context is actually very interesting.

I, Tonya is funny, dramatic, pumped full of energy, and even the sports angle is well-done. Certainly Margot Robbie can be commended for all the hard work she put in getting skate-ready, but she gets a lot of help from choreographers, stunt people, and CGI – effects that are pulled off almost seemlessly. But it’s the camera work that makes the figure skating extra exciting – you really get a sense of the speed and athleticism, two hallmarks of Harding’s style in particular. No matter your experience of “the incident” at the time, I, Tonya turns tragedy into triumph.

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21 thoughts on “I, Tonya

  1. Liz A.

    I’ve heard good things about this one. This happened when I was not really paying attention to the news, so I only heard about it in passing. (I really didn’t pay much attention to “news” in the ’90s.)

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  2. roughwighting

    I watched the Golden Globe awards last night, and Janney’s acceptance speech was excellent. And how amazing that Tonya was right there, taking it all in? A sad story made into a good movie, it seems.

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  3. Christopher

    Something I didn’t realize until I started hearing reviews about this film is that figure skating was–and probably still is–a pretty elitist club, and that Harding was resented by her competitors because she was talented but didn’t come from the same wealthy background they did.
    That in itself made me think very differently about her whole story and made me want to see this.
    The fact that this film is also darkly funny, something I haven’t heard from other reviews, is even better.

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    1. Jay Post author

      There are plenty of sports like that, and figure skating is pretty terrible for it – the judging is subjective and they could rob her of valuable points just for having the wrong “packaging”. But there’s even more to her story than that. You’ll enjoy the film.

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  4. Jeff the Chef

    I can’t agree with you more, on all points. I love this film, and Janney deserved the Golden Globe that she won. My point of view is that EVERYONE’s guilty, from Tonya, to her mother, to her husband and his friend, to the skating association who doesn’t advertise that “prettiness” is part of the competition. I’ve never seen a film that was so tragic and funny at the same time.

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  5. The Telltale Mind

    This one actually drums up little interest for me. Saw it live when the incident happened and that was good enough for me. Maybe and only maybe, if it is on Netflix one day and there is literally nothing else on.

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  6. Jenna

    This was the best movie I’ve seen all year. The whole scandal was before my time so I didn’t really know much going into it other than what I looked up before going to the theater. I’ve already seen it twice and am contemplating a third! And Allison Janney’s performance was amazing. Had to watch some old West Wing when I got back to get the image of ‘mean Allison Janney’ out of my brain.

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