Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale, Caitlin Carver
Written by: Steven Rogers
Running Time: 120 mins
Release date: 23rd February 2018
It has been said before and I have said it here: fact is definitely stranger than fiction. I, Tonya is proof of that. There is absolutely no way this story of an ice skater from the wrong side of the tracks who obviously had talent but found herself involved in a scandal so bizarre, so ridiculous, that it destroyed her career, could ever be fictional.
Tonya Harding, from a young age, had talent on the ice. Her Mother, LaVona Golden, a coarse , no-nonsense woman who pushes her daughter on a local teacher at the age of 4 because she feels she has talent, yet as they come from the wrong end of the status, Tonya has an uphill struggle to win over the judges. She meets Jeff Gillooly, a young man who she falls in love with but their relationship is but turbulent and sometimes violent. As Tonya’s chances to represent her country in the Olympics arrives, events take a bizarre twist when her nearest rival, Nancy Kerrigan, is attacked yet the fingers start pointing at Tonya.
The story of that day when Kerrigan had her knee broken by an unknown assailant has to be the most famous incident outside of the Winter Olympics, with the world press focusing on Harding, who has always claimed innocence to the fact. What this film tries to do is not show a Harding who was calculating and manipulative, which is what we had been lead to believe but a victim of life. A woman who was abused constantly by her mother, her husband and by the skating establishment.
Based on, as the film tells us, completely ironic free interviews that the key people gave, director Craig Gillespie, best known for Lars and the Real Girl, decides to reenact these interviews while having the characters play out the story, occasionally breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience about the authenticity of what they are watching, most of which was real. Using this as a way to convey the strangeness of the story, Gillespie goes for laughs, making us watch the often idiotic actions of this group around Harding and saying, aren’t these guys idiots? They are but also there’s a feeling of discomfort by laughing at these people, especially when they become abusive to Harding.
Thankfully the performances from a very strong cast keep you watching. Sebastian Stan, stepping away from his Winter Soldier persona, is terrific as Gillooly, a man who pleads his innocence in all of this yet is obviously the central figure to the downfall of his wife’s career. Also notable is Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn, Joe’s best friend and alleged bodyguard to Harding, who maybe the biggest fantasist in the world and who believes every word that comes out his mouth.
Yet the film has two powerhouse performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Robbie as Harding, brings a great deal of sympathy out of a loud and sometimes obnoxious woman who was desperate for fame and recognition in her sport and yet would explode at any form of criticism. Robbie makes us empathise was she says at one point while being hit or kicked, “I always thought it was my fault.” Janney, on the other hand, an actress who, for years, has been excellent in everything she touches, gets the golden part as the nightmare LaVona Golden, a vile woman who doesn’t have a kind word for anyone and who, during the interviews, had a parrot pecking at her ear throughout. It is a masterpiece is scene stealing and has finally made the world take notice of this fine, fine actress.
I, Tonya is a good film. It’s fascinating, it’s funny and constantly frank. It also shocks and makes you angry in equal parts. as a comedy you do find yourself feeling guilty for laughing and you do question if a film about a woman being abused should be this entertaining. Yet you cannot help but be dragged along to this outrageous tale of a woman with the perfect American dream, yet constantly screws it up at every available moment.