I, Tonya

Yes, that moustache is a crime against fashion
8/10 - Margot Robbie triple axels her way into Oscar territory with a standout performance in I, Tonya.
Release Date: 
Friday, February 23, 2018
Written by: 

I, Tonya follows the tumultuous life of figure skater Tonya Harding and her connection to the 1994 attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan.


Figure skater Tonya Harding's legacy in the sports world will always be marred by one moment.

In 1994, Harding became embroiled in controversy when her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, orchestrated an attack on fellow U.S. Olympian Nancy Kerrigan - with the events seeing her become the subject of intense worldwide media scrutiny and, ultimately, banned from competition.

However, director Craig Gillespie has set out to dismantle the myth that Harding is the villain in a narrative of her own making, in producing darkly comic movie I, Tonya.

Rather than promise to deliver the singular truth on who exactly formulated Jeff Gillooly's scheme, Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers offer a number of truths from the perspectives of the figures involved, and the opening titles caution the viewer that the film is based on "irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews".

Kicking off with a faux interview set in the present day with Harding, as played by Margot Robbie, flashbacks are employed to tell of her introduction to skating at the age of four and her fraught relationship with her chain-smoking mother, LaVona Golden, as portrayed by Allison Janney.

The plot tracks the alleged physical and emotional abuse Harding suffered at the hands of her mum, and her struggles to make it in the conformist skating world, where in spite of her natural talent, she didn't fit in due to her "white trash" family, homemade costumes, frizzy hair and rebellious streak.

Even with becoming one of the first women to cleanly land the fabled triple axel in competition, Harding couldn't win over the judges and failed to garner the scores she believed she deserved.

Her life was further thrown into disarray when she met Gillooly, a moustachioed Sebastian Stan, at the age of 15, and later married him despite his explosive personality and physical abuse - which he continues to deny.

From here, the narrative follows Harding's spiral downwards, including coming fourth at the 1992 Winter Olympics and receiving a death threat during a training session, causing Gillooly to instruct his pal Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) to send letters to Kerrigan.

But Eckhardt, seeking notoriety and prestige, hires two inept crooks to attack Kerrigan, with Harding and Gillooly implicated, and instantly undoing everything the skater has worked for.

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While the interviews show conflicting takes on the events, it's hard not to empathise with Harding, who seemed to be doomed to fail at every turn.

Robbie somehow manages to imbue her performance with a sincerity and strength, and when showing her skating skills, certainly impresses.

Stan does a convincing job of playing Gillooly, while Julianne Nicholson brings a touch of softness to the film as kind-hearted ice skating coach Diane Rawlinson, and Caitlin Carver takes on the part of Kerrigan, yet intriguingly, only appears onscreen momentarily.

Though I, Tonya is a vehicle for Australian star Robbie, it is Janney who steals every scene in her tatty brown fur coat and wig. As LaVona she dishes out the most horrific abuse, yet simultaneously motions to her own inner pain, with the audience hanging onto her every last word.

While at first disconcerting, flashbacks and documentary-like interviews wind together the various plot threads, with editor Tatiana S. Riegel nailing the pacing, and Peter Nashel's soundtrack setting the tone perfectly - the use of Supertramp's Goodbye Stranger at the moment Harding decides to leave Gillooly was particularly inspired.

In all, I, Tonya straddles satire and sympathy to deliver a compelling insight into a scandal - and leaves the viewer able to make their own mind up over whether Harding was a villain or a victim.

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