Tonya Harding, a champion figure skater whose career and personal life was destroyed by an ill-conceived scheme to thwart a competitor. She was an outsider, a "proud redneck" in a prim and proper world. Twenty three years after the headline-making attack on American skating princess Nancy Kerrigan, we finally learn Tonya Harding's side of the story. I, Tonya is Craig Gillespie's tragic and darkly comic biopic of her youth. The film is a maelstrom of emotions. You will laugh hysterically, then gasp in horror at the shocking violence. Harding become a star in her beloved sport, but hid a lifetime of abuse to achieve it.
I, Tonya is told from several perspectives. Margot Robbie stars as Tonya Harding from her teenage days to present. Sebastian Stan co-stars as Jeff Gilooly, an initially sweet boyfriend who transformed into a violent and controlling husband. Allison Janney plays LaVona Golden, her foul-mouthed, hideously obnoxious and sadistic mother. The characters narrate the story from their points of view. As we go back in time from her childhood to the seminal event, Gillespie juxtaposes their recollections with the truth. It is sordid and ugly, but captivating as hell to see.
Tonya Harding suffered nonstop verbal and physical abuse from childhood. LaVona Golden raised her in an unending torrent of mental manipulation and beating. She recognized Tanya's immense talent on the ice as a child, then pushed her to stardom by relentless criticism. By the time Harding was in the clutches of Jeff Gilooly, she was used to being a punching bag. He picked up where her mother left off. The saddest aspect of the film is how Harding justified this treatment. She didn't know any better. She had nowhere else to go. Harding was "used to getting her ass kicked".
Gillespie's great strength as a director is telling unbelievable stories with humanity. Much like his brilliant early film, Lars and the Real Girl; I, Tonya takes the characters and situations seriously. These people are ultimately flawed and ridiculous. Gillespie lets his actors and settings speak for themselves. There is a raw truth to his filmmaking that captures the lunacy around Tonya Harding. Gilooly and his best friend, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), concocted the Kerrigan assault. You will have a seizure laughing at their ineptitude. It boggles the mind that people could be so stupid, but truth is indeed stranger than fiction in this regard.
Margot Robbie and Allison Janney deliver their career best performances. Robbie is a serious contender for Best Actress, while Janney is a virtual lock to win Supporting Actress. Their twisted relationship as mother and daughter is the crux of this film. Harding was pushed to greatness by her mother's cruelty. She was the first woman to complete the triple axel in competition. Her tremendous talent, and fierce drive to pursue her dreams, were lost after the Kerrigan incident. Craig Gillespie gives Harding her due in this film. He and Margot Robbie show Harding, warts and all, but also that she did make it to the pinnacle. Despite what happened, for a fleeting moment, Tonya Harding was the top female figure skater in the world.
From Neon Pictures, I, Tonya is a riveting film about a long pilloried woman. It's hard to believe that Tonya Harding was only twenty-three at the time of her downfall. Her story is tragic, but innately humorous as well. I can't believe I laughed so hard in a movie where a young woman is constantly beaten. It's a damning indictment as well to the leeches that sank her. Gillespie wisely shows actual footage of the characters statements in the credits. I, Tonya is a gem, one of the best films of the year. Craig Gillespie, Margot Robbie, and Allison Janney are exceptional.