I still don’t know if I like or dislike Tonya Harding.
“Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.”
January 6th, 1994 and the “WHHHHYYYYY” heard around the world. You know the famous footage of Nancy Kerrigan on the ground, crying and screaming out “Why!” The most beloved figure skater in the world at that point, and someone had sabotaged her career and her chance at a gold medal at the Olympics. Well I, Tonya tells the story of that faithful day, but more importantly it tells the story of Tonya Harding’s life. There have been fantastic rivalries in sports, Magic and Bird, Ali and Frazier, the Yankees and the Red Sox. There was also Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) and Nancy Kerrigan. Both from two completely different worlds, both trying to achieve the same goal. Be the best figure skater in the world.
Now going into this movie, I wanted to know if they were going to make Tonya Harding a “hero,” or someone you were really rooting for. At one point in time, she was the most famous person in America, and not for the right reasons. She was hated, she was different, and to be perfectly honest it was hard to like her. I, Tonya does an incredible job tackling this situation, because as it turns out, Tonya being back in the spotlight has rubbed people the wrong way. She was a villain, a bad guy, but in life people do and should get a second chance. Something that the movie explores, and is a theme throughout the film. Tonya Harding had a rough life growing up; the movie explores this and is arguably the main focal point. Her parents divorce when she is young, and her Dad is never around, and her mother; LaVona (Allison Janney) is an abusive and all around terrible mother. Seriously, this woman is a piece of shit, she drinks non-stop curses and hits Tonya, at a very young age, and never seems to be proud or loving of her daughter. They are poor, all the money she does make goes towards Tonya’s skating, which seems to make her bitter and hold somewhat of a grudge against her. Allison Janney is phenomenal; she probably gives the performances of her career. She’s a broken woman, who hates her daughter; she believes being tough on her will ultimately make her a better skater. When all Tonya wants is her Mother to love and support her, and that never really happens. I’ll be shocked if Janney doesn’t win the Oscar for best supporting actress, she is so great, and funny, and you really learn to love to hate her.
The whole movie, you are waiting for “the moment” or as it’s referred to in the movie as “the incident.” You know it’s coming, and it takes awhile to get there, but it’s the journey of this movie that’s so fascinating and remarkable You want to feel for Tonya, the abuse by her Mother, and then the abuse from Jeff Gillooly her boyfriend/husband/ex-husband. Played by Sebastian Stan, I’ve never seen him like this, but he’s on another level here. They meet at a skating rink, how romantic right? But things go to shit early on, when he starts beating Tonya, and I’m no expert, but that’s usually the time to leave. But here’s the thing, Tonya is addicted to abuse. The movie explores addiction, smoking, drinking, the will to win, and abuse. Tonya dealt with it her entire life, she thought it was normal to be hit, she thought it was always her fault, she believed when they said “I’m sorry,” it wouldn’t happen again. She leaves Jeff time after time, but they always end back up together, even after he shoots her – yeah that really happens. That’s when you start to feel for Tonya, because outside of the skating aspect of this film, she is just abused over and over again, and no one really does anything about it. Even the judges in her competitions treat her unfairly, because she dresses different, and isn’t what they are looking for. They want a wholesome American family, and that’s just not who Tonya is, they want her to look a certain way, but she has to make her own costumes. She struggles everyday, but she’s the best at what she does. When she lands a triple-axel something no other American woman had ever done in competition, she really gains countrywide attention.
Just when the movie shows you a little bit of hope, well it all goes to shit. Jeff’s best friend and Tonya’s bodyguard Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) cooks up this elaborate plan to take Nancy out of the picture. Now these people are dumb, they are rednecks, and they weren’t ashamed of that. But at one point in the movie, Bobby Cannavale’s character – who is a reporter for Hard Copy, referred to these people as “boobs.” And Jeff and Shawn were the dumbest boobs I’d ever met. You really need to see the movie to fully understand how stupid Shawn is. It’s really remarkable the things that come out of his mouth. These two men are responsible for Tonya Harding’s downfall. The movie does a great job showing you what really happens, and how Tonya kind of had nothing to do with the incident. They ruined her skating career and her life, because they were actually just really dumb, and you feel for Tonya in that sense. You also can’t feel sorry for someone who couldn’t walk away from a man who constantly beat her for years and years, because that’s on her at some point.
Margot Robbie who obviously plays the infamous Tonya gives the performance of a lifetime. Margot is a beautiful girl, when you think of Wolf of Wall Street, usually her beauty is the first thing to come to mind. It’s what put her on the map. She embraces this role, she doesn’t “get ugly” but she transforms into this character. She goes for it, she’s all in, and you believe that she is in fact Tonya Harding. That’s what great actors and actresses do, they immerse themselves into these roles and become the character they are playing. She even does a fantastic job on the ice. Training hours a day before production began, you really have to give it up to Margot Robbie. Craig Gillespie who directs I, Tonya does such a great job humanizing Tonya. They aren’t making this movie to make us all feel bad for what happened to Tonya, but at certain moments you really do. You learn to understand what kind of person she is, and what kind of life she was living. The cameras didn’t show you that back in 1994, and throughout her skating career. You are never fully rooting for Tonya, because we all know what happens in the end, but I had this weird feeling throughout the movie. That if a few things went differently in her life, I think there would be a completely different Tonya Harding story to tell. When you deal with certain things in your life, it will shape who you become and they way you act and think. No one will ever really know what she knew or how much she knew when it comes to the Nancy Kerrigan incident, but that has nothing to do with the movie.
I have been waiting a long time to see this, it finally came to my city this past weekend and it lived up to my expectations. There are incredible performances across the board. Some of which could get recognize and be nominated for an Oscar. It has heart and it deals with some serious content. It will make you laugh and cry; there are a few scenes with Tonya and her Mother that just leave you almost in shock. It’s a dark comedy and I loved it from start to finish. One of the best movies of the year – for me at least.
Check ya later.
Nate’s Movie Tour Reviews – I, Tonya = 92/100