I, Tonya (2017) Words

Gay Times Magazine - - Film - Bren­dan Mar­shall

You may think you know the in­fa­mous story of Tonya Hard­ing and the 1994 at­tack on her fig­ure skat­ing Olympic team­mate Nancy Ker­ri­gan, but ‘I, Tonya’ is a re­minder that as fa­mil­iar we may be with that in­ci­dent, no one re­ally knows the full story. It’s a fierce por­trayal of the highs and lows of life, the pres­sure and elitism of pro­fes­sional fig­ure skat­ing and the hu­mour and hor­ror of hu­man be­hav­iour. Writ­ten by Steven Rogers (‘Step­mom’, ‘P.S. I Love You’) and di­rected by Craig Gille­spie (‘Lars and the Real Girl’), ‘I, Tonya’ is a darkly sym­pa­thetic por­trait of the dis­graced Olympian, led by a live-wire per­for­mance from Mar­got Rob­bie. Achingly funny at times, it al­ways finds the hu­mour in its real-life story whilst never los­ing sight of its more tragic mo­ments.

The tragi­com­edy opens with a ti­tle card that reads: “The events of this film are based on irony free, wildly con­tra­dic­tory, and to­tally true in­ter­views.” Framed with recre­ations of re­cent doc­u­men­tary in­ter­views and fourth-wall break­ing com­men­tary, we are in­tro­duced to Hard­ing’s ex-hus­band, Jeff Gil­looly (Se­bas­tian Stan) a vi­o­lent small town loser; her mon­strous mother, LaVona Golden (Al­li­son Jan­ney); coach, Diane Rawl­in­son (Ju­lianne Ni­chol­son); and delu­sional “body­guard,” Shawn Eck­hardt (Paul Wal­ter Hauser).

Four years on from her break-out sup­port­ing turn in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, Rob­bie’s per­for­mance as Hard­ing is the star-mak­ing role she de­serves and the high­light of her ca­reer thus far. She ex­udes all of the des­per­a­tion, sad­ness, anger and dis­ap­point­ment Hard­ing faced. Rob­bie’s per­for­mance doesn’t ask us to love or even for­give Hard­ing, but sim­ply to em­pathise and un­der­stand her. Rob­bie’s face ra­di­ates in the close-ups of the won­der­fully recre­ated skat­ing scenes, only some­what let down by dodgy CGI face-re­place­ment.

‘I, Tonya’ loses its mo­men­tum when it fi­nally ‘hits’ the Nancy Ker­ri­gan in­ci­dent. Styled with a Coen-es­que flour­ish, it mostly crashes with the ex­cep­tion of a scene-steal­ing per­for­mance from Hauser as Gil­looly’s con­spir­acy-the­o­rist friend who or­ches­trates the at­tack.

Nancy Ker­ri­gan was fig­ure skat­ing’s dar­ling long be­fore her at­tack, be­cause Hard­ing didn’t fit the mould. Hard­ing was painted as “trailer trash,” her mu­sic choices and home­made cos­tumes marked her as work­ing-class and un­re­fined, which was clearly a prob­lem for the pro­fes­sional skat­ing com­mu­nity. Look­ing to pro­mote a whole­some, bal­le­rina-like fe­male ideal, they didn’t want the frizzy haired girl from Port­land, Ore­gon. Af­ter Hard­ing be­came the first Amer­i­can wo­man to com­plete a triple axel and de­liv­ered record-break­ing per­for­mances at the U.S. and World Cham­pi­onships in 1991, they were forced to recog­nise her.

While the film is overly long, Rob­bie and Jan­ney are both elec­tric, par­tic­u­larly in their sadly too few scenes to­gether, por­tray­ing the kind of messy and com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship not usu­ally seen in biopics of women. Hard­ing be­lieved skat­ing was the path to achiev­ing the love and re­spect that was miss­ing from her per­sonal life and thanks to the skit­tish zing Rob­bie brings to her, she is not a cal­cu­lated jeal­ous com­peti­tor, but a sur­vivor, phys­i­cally and men­tally abused by the peo­ple who were sup­posed to love her and re­jected by the pro­fes­sion that judged her based on her ap­pear­ance and back­ground, and fi­nally from ev­ery­one who watched it play out in the me­dia - “You’re all my at­tack­ers too,” she says to the au­di­ence.

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