Director: Craig Gillespie
Running Time: 2 hours
As an Irish/British millennial, I have to admit that I had no idea who Tonya Harding was before watching Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya. What I could gather from the trailer and the promotion of the film, was that Harding was once the worlds greatest figure skater- and that she bludgeoned her competitors knee, ruining both their careers in the process.
Watching the film, I realise that this isn’t exactly true. Whilst cleverly gaining interest in the movie (the idea really is scandalous!), this blurred line between what actually happened and what story the film is trying to tell only helps the films sketchy, unreliable narrator tone.
The film opens with the statement ‘based on wildly contradictory interviews’. It doesn’t try to portray one side of the story, or its own perception of the truth. During a fight scene between Tonya (Margot Robbie) and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), we see Jeff turn to the camera and break the forth wall, saying ‘this never happened’. Tonya, in turn, tells the audience ‘this definitely happened’.
This technique leaves the audience constantly questioning who is telling the truth, who should we be emphasising with, and keeps us hooked. Much like in real life, when these events unfolded- we are again the spectating public- watching on and trying to get to the bottom of these events.
This is not a film however, about the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. This is a film about the life and career of Tonya Harding. We first see Tonya as a three year old child, on the ice. We see her troubled home life- her Father walking out on her, her turbulent relationship with her abusive mother LaVona (Allison Janney), and a budding romance with her future husband Jeff.
It is difficult not to feel for Tonya. She is shown nothing but violence and disapproval from every single angle, seemingly her entire life. The only character close to her that shows her any semblance of love as a child is her father- but even those more tender scenes of fatherly advice are played out as he teaches Tonya to shoot and kill wild animals.
She is beaten black and blue by both her mother and husband, who both respectively attack her with knifes and guns. The only way out of the nightmare for Tonya is the ice, which is where she focuses all of her energy.
The acting in this movie is superb. In particular, Allison Janney, who was well deserving of her Oscar for supporting actress for this role. She plays LaVona through the stages of early motherhood, right to present day interviews (which, if you watch- she does complete justice to). If anything can help you understand why Tonya Harding acts the way she does, why she feels so hard done by, or undeserving of love- Janney’s portrayal of LaVona Harding will.
Margot Robbie is also sensational. She shakes off her type-cast glamorous femme fatale past and transforms into Tonya Harding. From her facial expressions, mannerisms to truthfulness of her performance, you will get lost in the story, and believe her performance entirely.
The only problem that I had with the movie was the transition of the timeline. The movie starts when Tonya is just 3 years old, and ends when she is 24. The hair and makeup in the movie gets this spot on at some points- but others tragically wrong.
When Tonya meets Jeff, she is only 15 years old- but with shortened hair and played by 27 year old Robbie- she actually looks older than at any point in the movie. Most of the scenes earlier in the movie use a younger actress, and it seems like a mistake to have swapped to Robbie at this point. It took me out of the movie for a moment, baffled at what ages the actors where trying to portray.
It is only the aesthetics in this movie that could have been improved- at the end of the film, we see real footage of Tonya Harding (the first time I had actually ever seen the real figure skater) and I was surprised that she actually wasn’t as badly groomed as the make-up team had created her to be on film. Her hair was not as frazzled as Robbie’s wig, and her stage make-up wasn’t as crass as Robbie’s un-blended blush.
Other than this- the film was perfect. It is two hours long, but you want it to be longer. I was hooked from the start to finish. It is difficult to believe this film is based on a true story- the plot spirals so chaotically- but that is the brilliance of I, Tonya.