Synopsis: An Olympic figure skater’s misfortunes and misdeeds
Thanks to writer Steve Rogers, director Craig Gillespie, and actor-producer Margot Robbie’s absurdist comedy, I Tonya, disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding gets to present her side of the story. Her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), and ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), tell their sides too. Nope, none of them match up.
I, Tonya hews closer to Harding’s version of events; her allegations of abuse from both her mother and husband have an evidential basis. Both LaVona and Jeff deny the accusations. In fact they recount how they helped Tonya achieve her skating dreams.
LaVona talks of working multiple jobs to pay for her skating. No mention of the effort it took to beat her daughter with a hairbrush for less than perfect skating. (In the documentary, Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story, a witness confirms the aforementioned incident.) Jeff Gillooly does want her career to go well. So much so that he hires goons to attack her skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan. The film shows Gillooly battering Tonya. Stop it, Winter Soldier! I’m pretty certain that pummeling a person doesn’t enhance their athletic condition. So yeah, counter-productive. (During a separation, Harding was granted a restraining order against Gillooly.)
I, Tonya follows Tonya from child skating prodigy to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Along with her skating triumphs — realistically recreated — we see her berated and hit by her mom, then berated and hit by her husband. Tonya doesn’t take any of this standing down. She comes across as unscrupulous, a survivor and a tremendous athletic talent. Also kind of scary; woe be to the person who crosses her… she hunts and knows her guns.
The movie shows her fighting to win over the judges and skating officials who dislike her unsophisticated and tough girl ways. She smokes, argues, swears and wears cheap outfits. She also skates to icky, hard-driving pop songs. Even her triple axels couldn’t guarantee her first place finishes. But the judges did like Nancy Kerrigan, an elegant, ice-princess-y type.
To sort of even the playing field, Jeff –by now her ex-husband- – and his friend, Shawn Eckardt, plot to unnerve Nancy K. with threatening letters. (Tonya later describes
Shawn as “dumb as a post.”) Tonya informs Jeff G. that Nancy K. skates at Tuna Can Arena. Disappointing cats everywhere, they somehow learn that it’s actually Tony Kent Arena. Dumb Post Shawn arranges for a couple of goons to kneecap fancy Nancy. They royally screw up in covering their tracks.
Dumb Post Shawn fancies himself some sort of dark ops character and declares that he is a recognized counter-terrorism and espionage expert. Except that you’re not, says everyone. Tonya and Jeff are really sweating now. When interviewed by the FBI about the attack, Tonya insists, “We don’t know anything.” “That must make life difficult,” says the agent.
And so, off goes Tonya to the Olympics, trailing along a media circus. Fierce skating ensues, also: broken skate-lace drama, protestations of innocence, finger-pointing and the appearance of an adorable bird.
I, Tonya briskly moves through multiple “truths” with dark humor. Be warned that dark parts include rabbit hunting 😦 and Tonya abuse 😦