The United States had some of the best skaters in the world with Kristi Yamaguchi, Nancy Kerrigan and the rebel outsider, Tonya Harding in the early 1990’s. Harding’s white trash upbringing and lifestyle made her a natural rival to America’s sweetheart Nancy Kerrigan. The rivalry was so much more than fans choosing sides, there was genuine envy. Harding seemed to be envious of what appeared to be the perfect poster child for good clean American living and felt she was discriminated against because of her background and lack of money. She felt her talent was as good as anyone out there, but no one could look past her brash demeanor. This would go on to be the struggle of her entire life even after her skating career was finished. Who would have thought they would go on to make a Tonya Harding movie that would produce an Academy Award winner?
While I am in no way an expert or historian of figure skating, but I figure it would be safe to say that the sport was never as popular as it was going into the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. The buzz was loud surrounding it even before the infamous crack on Nancy Kerrigan’s knee, that just made it, even more, rock and roll. I mean Kerrigan would go on to host an episode of Saturday Night Live!
If the story of the competition between Kerrigan and Harding is going to be told, it has to be told from Tonya’s point of view. She was the one with the roller-coaster life and the one who had a variety of colorful characters surrounding her.
Tonya grew up in a poor section of Portland, Oregon and had only one love and one noticeable talent which her less-than-caring mother quickly decided to exploit. LaVona Harding was a chain-smoking waitress who was bitter at the world for dealing her a raw hand. She sank everything she could into Tonya and trying to get her to the top level of the figure skating world. Her overbearing and highly critical ways are what ultimately drove her and Tonya apart and pushed Tonya into the hands of her future husband and accomplice, Jeff Gillooly.
Tony Harding was determined to be the best skater she could be, it was the competition part she didn’t like because she was convinced she was getting overlooked. It was these feelings and frustrations that would ultimately lead to her downfall.
The new film I, Tonya shows her life and rise and fall in the skating community in the best possible way. This story had to be told in a darkly comical way and director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers found the perfect way to show some of the worst moments and make us laugh and empathize at the same time. This story is almost so sad and depressing from Tonya’s viewpoint that if you don’t tell it in a comical way it would be unbearable to watch. These people became such parodies of themselves, it’s hard to believe that 23 years ago all of this was real and that it WASN’T a movie.
The film is clearly driven by Margot Robbie’s complete and perfect transformation into Harding and Allison Janney’s pitch-perfect performance as her dreadful mother. These two together have you transfixed on these two people and the downtrodden life they both lead. Robbie has so many of Harding’s mannerisms and her voice is spot on (google some video interviews of Tonya and you will be amazed). We catch a glimpse of LaVona at the end of the movie and it becomes scary how well Janney did depict her every move.
As a whole, the movie captured the time period of the very bland mid 90’s in an excellent way and brings us into Tonya’s life in a very real and intimate way that you at times forget you are watching a movie and not reliving the whole time period again. Robbie and Janney steal the movie, but it’s Tonya’s life story that keeps you fixated on the movie as a whole.