Directed by: Craig Gillespie – Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale
Even if you don’t remember the infamous hobbling of Winter Olymipic hopeful, Nancy Kerrigan, by her teammate, Tonya Harding, it is unlikely you are not familiar with the story. It has been parodied and referenced throughout pop-culture in just over two decades since. The incident ended Harding’s skating career, which had been punctuated with great highs and crushing lows, and turned her into one of the most recognisable anti-heroes of the last century.
Having watched interviews with Harding, and seen footage of the attack, I have always found it hard to feel any sympathy for her. She comes across as completely hard-nosed and unrepentant. Therefore, it seemed a surprising choice of role for the beautiful, bubbly, and likeable, Margo Robbie, to undertake. And I have to admit that during the opening scenes I was questioning her wisdom.
From the off, we learn that I,Tonya is based on interviews with Harding, her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Stan) and other involved parties. but they had all given very different stories. Told through the medium of these interviews, intercut with scenes from her life, we learn the nitty-gritty of Tonya’s background, from the hardships and abuse of her early years, to the struggle to be the top competitive skater in the country, to her well-publicised and extremely ungracious fall from grace.
Although Robbie probably starts playing her a little too early in the movie (she first takes over the role from younger actors as a teenage Tonya) she does a fantastic job in the role, and is well-deserving of all the plaudits that have been coming her way.
She actually makes Harding likeable, and when she is banned from skating for life (not a spoiler since it’s a matter of public record) you really feel for her. The Harding portrayed here is of the ‘poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks trying to better herself’ variety. By contrast her lover, and later husband, Gillooly, is portrayed as manipulative, abusive and thoroughly unlikable, and her mother (brilliantly portrayed by Janney) is shrewish and unloving. Indeed, every character she encountered in her life appears to have done her wrong.
Of course, I,Tonya is based on her recollections, so the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. However, the conceit of using the interviews allows director, Gillespie, to portray the story in a totally tongue-in-cheek way. Because he is not certain of all the facts, and there are such conflicting stories, the audience gets to make up their own minds about what really happened, making for a very engaging watch.
I,Tonya really is a story from the ‘you couldn’t make it up’ school of writing, and part of its appeal is that it is so completely outrageous, but yet you know that it’s true (ish – remember these are the protagonists recollections).
If I had one criticism, it’s that the Nancy Kerrigan incident feels a bit tossed aside. She was, after all, the victim of this heinous assault, but here she is almost like a bystander in what is partially her story.
Overall, I,Tonya manages to be hilarious, without losing any of the emotional impact of Harding’s story. It really makes you think about the potential grime behind the glitz and glam that we see on the ice rink. You may not come out of I,Tonya any the wiser about the facts, but you will come out extremely entertained.
In Cinemas February 24th! See trailer below: