“Despite the divisive subject matter being tackled in an equally divisive way, I did enjoy myself.”
If you say the name ‘Tonya Harding’ to anyone who is a fan of sports or who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past 20 years, it will most likely incite a feeling of intense hatred. Why? Well Tonya Harding was the figure skater who is closely related to the incident of fellow figure skater, Nancy Kerrigan, being hit in the knee, costing her a fair shake at the Olympics. Now that the event is old enough that most young people won’t remember it, why not make a movie about it? But the way that I, Tonya presents the story is interesting to me.
Tonya Harding remains adamant that she had absolutely nothing to do with the attack that broke Nancy Kerrigan’s knee, but to most that doesn’t matter. So, trying to clear her name I guess, I, Tonya opts to steer into the skid of everyone thinking Tonya Harding is an asshole; but in my opinion they overcorrected. You see, despite the preconceived notions that everyone in the world held, in I, Tonya Tonya Harding isn’t an asshole, but everybody else is. Tonya Harding is portrayed as a rough around the edges, all-American girl who just wants to achieve her dream of being a professional figure skater; and whether or not these facts are the truth, they are a very tough pill to swallow. Sure if someone had seen I, Tonya before knowing of “the incident”, as the movie so appropriately calls it, they would rightfully think that Tonya Harding was the victim; and I can see that viewpoint to an extent. I, Tonya does a good job of making Tonya a tragic character after “the incident”, especially with the “You’re all my attackers” monologue that Margot Robbie delivers so brilliantly, but it seems like the character of Harding in the movie is in a kind of purgatory in terms of moral alignment. Although I would say that I, Tonya tries really hard to make you feel for Tonya Harding, they still present her in a way that is very cold and almost like a villain. It’s like they knew that making Tonya Harding a hero wouldn’t sit right with the world, so they instead made her a villain with a tragic backstory. And this creates a strange tug of war that you constantly see on screen. One minute you are being asked to feel bad for Harding, the next you are to be afraid of her and disgusted by her actions. The movie almost attempted to say that the Tonya Harding we know is a byproduct of everything we put her through, but it refused to take that hardline stance instead only hinting at the idea. I didn’t dislike the movie, in fact it’s quite the opposite, but I feel it would have been more impactful had it made up its mind before the cameras started to roll.
As far as the rest of the movie goes, I really loved it. Let’s start off with the performances. Now I already discussed how the character of Tonya Harding was a little wishy-washy in the film, but despite that I felt Margot Robbie gave a stellar performance, and probably her best. That being said, I wasn’t in any way surprised at the quality of her acting. Looking through her filmography I, Tonya is easily the most ‘real’ thing she’s ever done, but for some reason I knew she had it in her all along. Who did surprises me immensely however was Sebastian Stan, who played Harding’s wife Jeff Gillooly. As soon as the film started I was captivated by his performance because it felt so real. I didn’t feel as though he was being a caricature in any one direction, it all felt so genuine. And the scenes that Stan and Robbie shared were like all of the Power Rangers coming together to form the Magazord. The intense energy that was felt between the two of them was so raw and so realistic that I wouldn’t have been able to escape the film if I had tried. These scenes led me through a range of emotions that I wasn’t expecting when going into I, Tonya, and the combination of these two actors constantly kept surprising me. Honourable mentions have to be given to both Allison Janney, who played Harding’s abusive mother, and Paul Walter Hauser, who played Gillooly’s buffoon sidekick, who both did amazing in their respective roles and did a great job at filling out the world.
Speaking of all of that, let’s discuss the finer points of I, Tonya. Now despite the subject matter being disgusting, enraging, and really scummy I, Tonya opted to make itself a comedy. With my words you would assume that I disliked this move, but you’d be mistaken. I thought the comedy in I, Tonya was handled very well, but the issue I run into once agin pertains to the tone. Much like the character of Tonya Harding, the movie felt a little tonally confused at times. It would go from a domestic abuse sequence, to one where you can’t help but laugh at the fat guy who is so unbelievably stupid and those shifts, at least in retrospect, were strange. I say ‘in retrospect’ because during the movie you don’t actually feel those shifts in tone; or at least I didn’t. I felt that the mockumentary filming style fit the narrative, as well as the aforementioned comedy, very well, and the direction was seriously impressive. Despite a few moments of wonky CGI while “Margot Robbie” was doing a figure skating routine, I felt the direction, especially while on the ice, was masterful. It was immersive, creative, and added a lot to the film that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. I also thought the soundtrack and general aesthetic of the film were wonderful, but that could just be my love for anything retro talking.
Overall I, Tonya was a very enjoyable movie. Despite the divisive subject matter being tackled in an equally divisive way, I did enjoy myself. The performances were great, the direction was great, and it was good for quite a few laughs.
I give I, Tonya an A