Some movies are more difficult to review than others, and I, Tonya is one of them. On one hand, it is a humorous film, making good use of the of the fourth wall to tell a story, or stories – it embraces its differing points of view – about what is referred to as The Incident, the injuring of skater Nancy Kerrigan by people around Tonya Harding.
On the other hand, it’s a lot about the the abuse Tonya (Oscar-nominee Margo Robbie) withstands, first at the hands of her never satisfied mother LaVona Fay Golden (probable Oscar winner Alison Janney), then by her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) in their odd love/hate relationship.
As someone who watched a LOT more figure skating in the day than he really cared about, I know it was also about how the girl from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks in Portland, OR never having the right “look”. Her skating was athletic – she was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition – but she lacked the grace, the elan that the skating community wanted to show.
I asked my local expert, my wife, what she thought of Robbie’s portrayal of Harding. She thought, and I concurred, that she captured the essence of Tonya, though she wasn’t as sinewy as the skater. We agreed, though, that the folks playing Tonya’s mom and husband, and especially Gilhooey’s lunkhead friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), were spot on.
I continue to be bemused by the fact that some people get up from the theater as soon as the credits begin rolling, even when those credits are paired with clips of the real people – Tonya, Jeff, LaVona, Shawn. Shawn really DID think he was a world class international spy.
I liked the film because Tonya eventually overcame what was essentially a rigged system to become one of the best skaters in the world. She was turned into a national joke – the film Tonya points to a real David Letterman Top Ten – because of a ridiculous and ineptly executed plan not of her design. She was banned from participating in the only thing to do what she knew how to do, yet she survived.
I, Tonya speaks of the curse of celebrity, with the swarm of reporters amped outside her door for a time. A television infotainment reporter (Bobby Cannavale) admits how the medium sensationalized that narrative until the Next Big Thing came along.
And, as noted, I did love the story telling device of the film. Tonya talks about all the specific difficult things she went through to train for the 1994 Olympics, and her coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) looks into the camera and says, “and she did!” I laughed through much of the dark comedy.
My wife, who wanted to see the film more than I, enjoyed it less, because of all that Tonya went through, starting at age of four. Of course, we saw this at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany.