Title: I, Tonya
Rating: 5 Stars
This is a black comedy about the life of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie).
In her role as Tonya’s mother, LaVona, Allison Janey is a force of nature. She is unrelenting in pushing Tonya. She has a face of stone and apparently allows neither herself nor Tonya any joy. She doesn’t take any crap from anyone and is brutally blunt with everyone. That drive is reflected in Tonya’s skating. She is naturally gifted and pushes herself to excellence.
Unfortunately, the skating world is upper class elitist and looks for innocent and femininity in the women skaters. Tonya, although clearly the most athletic and best technical skater, is lost in this world with her working class, hard scrabble upbringing. It’s a struggle for her to succeed in that world while at the same time claiming her identity.
Although LaVona pushed her to excellence, she also verbally and physically abused Tonya as well. Keeping her so singly focused on skating took away her personal life and she fell in love with the first man that paid attention to her, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).
Since he is also abusive to Tonya and is the cause for sending her world crashing down around her, this obsession with skating to the exclusion of all else ultimately led to her undoing in the skating world that she so wanted to conquer.
Jeff and his sidekick, Shawn Eckhardt are portrayed as idiots. The two men that they hire to carry out the attack on Nancy Kerrigan are, if anything, even dumber. Their ineptness is another vein of dark comedy running through the film.
The film pretty much takes the side of Harding. This is interesting because at several points in the film, Tonya breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience that nothing going on is really her fault. By so unfailingly presenting her side, the film implicitly agrees with her.
The other approach is that there are many scenes in the film that are quite amusing. Again, in a speech where Harding speaks directly to the audience, she accuses them of using her life as fodder to laugh at her. By presenting aspects of her life comedically, the film is an accomplice to that laughter.
By the end, Harding is shown to be an American hero. She came up from nothing and through natural talent and unrelenting work, rose to the top. She is knocked down by scandal, but promptly picks herself up again and starts the struggle again. This is best shown by the scenes immediately after finishing fourth at the Albertville Winter Olympics. Finishing fourth doesn’t earn you any endorsement deals, so immediately after leaving the limelight of the Olympics, she’s back at her home town working as a waitress at the local diner.
The very last scene of the movie is after the Kerrigan attacks, after breaking her shoelace in the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, pleading guilty to involvement in the Kerrigan attack, and being barred for life from skating competitively.
To keep earning a living by cashing in on her notoriety, she has taken up boxing. The other boxer lands a massive blow and sends her flying to canvas. Harding shakes it off, gives a little smile to the camera, spits out blood, puts her mouthpiece in, stands up and continues to fight.
Coming from humble beginnings and possessing an indomitable spirit, this is the American hero that we all want to believe in.