I was a senior in high school when Tonya Harding started gaining national attention so it was cool to see this story play out fully as I knew a good bit of detail here but there was a lot I didn’t realize. It’s funny how your attitude is shaped by your own projections based on what you think happened. But then, you get more information and things shift. My opinion about Tonya Harding is one of those things that shifted. In the past I felt resentment towards her, now I feel sympathy mixed in there a bit too…
Granted, I don’t think she’s innocent, but it’s a bit more clear that not all the guilt should land on her shoulders either. The story goes like this – Harding was raised by an abusive mother who beat the shit of her but who also recognized her talent as a skater and relentlessly pushed her into the sport. Harding did have a natural talent and was winning competitions against older skaters at the age of 4. From there, that was her life: skating and abuse. The abuse wasn’t just from her mother but also her boyfriend and later husband, then ex-husband Jeff Gillooly also hit her. So abuse and skating were her primary drives and largely all she knew. Harding was always a bit of an outsider compared to the rest of the skating community and she always had a bit of an attitude, now we can see why.
Of course the story ultimately plays out to “the incident” which is when Nancy Kerrigan gets assaulted at a competition in an attempt to take her out of the Olympics. I’ll leave the rest of the details to the film because part of what makes the film entertaining is how ridiculous the whole thing played out and the idiots who attempted to “mastermind” her attack. Suffice it to say, there was some seriously stupid people involved here, especially Gillooly and his friend Shawn. After seeing this, I would guess that Shawn is a Trump supporter.
The actors are fantastic! They are ALL good and there are some really interesting, dynamic characters here. All the main characters have some layers and depth; there’s no main character that’s one dimensional. There wasn’t just one stand-out actor for me, there were 3 – Margot Robbie as Harding, Sebastian Stan as Gillooly, and Allison Janney as Harding’s mother LaVona. Don’t get me wrong, all the talent in here is great, but those 3 really just took the film to a different level. Janney just won the Golden Globe for that performance and justifiably so, she disappears into LaVona to the point that I almost didn’t recognize her at first and delivers a fiery, passionate performance. Sebastian Stan also showing range here too, his facial ticks, his voice infections, are all really specific. If you want to see his range and compare, check him out in the Captain America movies, he’s Bucky! As for Robbie, she gets to show she’s more than just another pretty face and is really effective in making you feel a range of emotions when it comes to how you’ll regard Harding that incorporates everything from seething anger to heart-breaking sympathy. So much of what she did and how she did it really took me back to ’86 when I was watching it unfold on TV. The cast includes: Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, and Bobby Cannavale.
The style in the storytelling is one of the things that makes I, Tonya engaging and entertaining, kudos to director Craig Gillespie for having some fun with breaking that 4th wall and taking some chances in terms of presentation. I’d definitely recommend giving I, Tonya a viewing!
reviewed by Sean McKnight