In 1994 an event occurred that shocked the sporting world. An unknown assailant attacked Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan after training, potentially ruining her career. It was later discovered that the ex husband of her rival, Tonya Harding, was responsible. This event ruined Tonya’s career and made her the most hated person in America for a time. I, Tonya is a documentary style film about the life of Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie) from the perspective of people close to her leading up to and including “the incident.” Interviewing Tonya, her mother, her coach, her ex husband and even her ex “body guard” to try to uncover what really happened in Tonya’s life that lead to the Nancy Kerrigan incident.
At its core, I, Tonya is a movie about domestic violence over a historically accurate movie. We see Tonya endure physical beatings as early as 8 years old from her repulsive ‘dance mom’ mother LaVona (Janney), and continue to abuse her no matter how hard she trains. Then at 15 when she meets the first boy she loved in Jeff Gillooly (Stan) and he starts to beat her she believes it is because he loves her. Her mum beats her and she loves her right? Watching the violence followed by some form of make up sex between Harding and Gillooly is somewhat confronting by demonstrates the life she had and the mindset she was in. It furthers the narrative that Tonya was a victim and could not escape her circumstances. It does raise the question though, would she had made it as far as she did in figure skating, had she not suffered the abuse?
What this movie does brilliantly is the way it humanises Tonya, who isn’t a likeable character in many ways, but due to the life she had and the abuse she suffered the audience can empathise with her. In 1994 Tonya was only 23 years old, still behaving childish, claiming no responsibility for her actions, blaming the world. Something that works in her favour as an immature child caught up with a bunch of idiots doing stupid things. This is captured perfectly by the documentary style of filmmaking used by director Craig Gillespie. Since the movie doesn’t spend a large amount of time on the incident, we gain more sympathy for someone who is a victim in her own right.
Tonya Harding may or may not be a likeable person, but Margot Robbie will definitely make you feel bad for the character before the movie is over. It is through Robbie’s performance that the audience can engage with just how hard Tonya had to work, how naturally talented she really was, and the abuse she endured. Dishing out the abuse comes in the vain of another brilliant performance in Allison Janney as LaVona Golden, Tonya’s Mother. Janney delivers the perfect performance as the greatest abuser in Tonya’s life, tormenting her, beating her and pushing her into the arms of someone who beats her worse. It is incredible how bad of a person she comes off as and yet can still be a fascinating character.
I was three years old when the “Kerrigan Incident” occurred and as an Australian the only Kerrigan Incident I grew up aware of was the one from the film The Castle so I went in pretty blind to the story. Something that I believe helped me enjoy the movie all the more. Accepting the fact this may not be entirely accurate goes a long way, especially with the final words from Tonya, “There’s no such thing as truth … everyone has their own truth.” This is the story told from Tonya’s side, it definitely favours her in painting her not as a hero but a victim of circumstances. It definitely raises the question, was she in on it?
I, Tonya works great as a sports movie; a dark comedy and an interesting take on a historical event. If any of these styles work for you then check it out.
I, Tonya scores 8/10
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