I, Tonya

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, not such a big hit in the 21st century…

I, Tonya

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Written by: Steven Rogers

Featuring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney

Tonya Harding comes from a tough red-neck upbringing. An unloving, tough, abusive mother shapes her career in the figure skating that she has an aptitude for. Unfortunately in the upper echelons of competitive skating presentation and who you are is almost as important as how you can skate. This does not sit well with the iron-willed Tonya and after many confrontations, near fights and resistance and also record-breaking figure skating Tonya’s story culminates with an attack on fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan and the subsequent fallout over that much-publicised event.

You do have to be old enough to remember this event. During the film, many of the players talk about how it was a world event but it does pay to remember a world event is usually tomorrow’s ‘huh?’ No one in my immediate family, apart from my wife, had any idea what I was talking about when I mentioned this film and its story. It is forgotten in this day an age.

Certainly, at the time, the media sensationalised what was in truth a sordid event which turned out to be so petty and pathetic that it could only have ever been filmed in this mockumentary style. Amazingly what happened had little bearing on the competitors involved until the court case.

Harding’s story is told from the point of view of Tonya herself, her ex-husband and her estranged mother and at no point are we led by the nose to say who is telling the truth. I actually liked that about this film. We have to make our own mind up.

Margot Robbie definitely brings Harding to life and does not sugarcoat her side of the story. She is a victim of her mother who shapes her warped outlook on the world but nevertheless she is still mean and vindictive too – was she made that way or was that nature already there? Only you can decide. Likewise, her mother is allowed a voice and again she isn’t sugarcoated, she’s mean and tough but she does have a motive for it. Alison Janney brings her tremendous talent to this role and you could not have asked for a better actor to bring the ‘wicked-witch’ to the screen but somehow get sympathy for her. It’s a tough life and she had to be tough – maybe not that tough, but you know the reason.

Sebastian Stan and Paul Walter Hauser play the almost Laurel and Hardiesque team of the vicious husband Jeff and the truly idiotic fantasist Shawn. I have to admit that the crime that these two perpetrated was mean and vicious and could have ended Kerrigan’s career and even mobility permanently but even bearing this mind their portrayal at times had me laughing more than any full-on comedy. In particularly Hauser’s portrayal of the so stupid, it hurts bodyguard and hitman was a triumph. More problematical is the role of Jeff, was he a violent abuser or was Harding painting him in a bad light to take the spotlight off her? Who knows the real truth? Real abusers never own up to it and her description of events does fit in with exactly how abusive relationships work out. But you do have to make your own mind up.

Having a North American relative who was involved in figure skating I have been told first hand about the snobbery and how the cards are stacked in favour of certain competitors no matter what. In fact, he left to train people instead because the competition was truly uncompetitive. So Tonya Harding’s frustration at the way she was treated despite her talent rings true. She did complete that triple-axel no matter what anyone else says.

Did she have prior knowledge? Was she treated unfairly in the aftermath? Unfortunately, if you read comments on this film and the events involved then the American public, in particular, have made their minds up. Me? I’m not so sure. You? Well watch the film, do a bit of reading, put your prejudices to one side, and make your own mind up. I think as a film in this respect it’s mission accomplished.

The skating scenes involving Robbie are magnificently the done and the overall feel of the film, with regard to the time-period and attitudes more than often hits the mark than misses. Is it fair to the real-life participants in this affair? Who really knows but I think the film-makers really tried their hardest to be fair.

Overall this is a great fun movie about a fairly serious topic and it does make you laugh, wince and even cry at the right moments without being jarring. In my view that is a very hard thing to pull off, most films that try this fail.

I, Tonya is a great entertaining film, has it shed a new light on the Nancy Kerrigan event? Well it has brought the public back to the event for a short-while to discuss it and it does not lead you by the nose – so as the film says also, I say make your own mind up.

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