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I, Tonya - Movie Review

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I, Tonya - Movie Review

4 starsThose of a certain age undoubtedly remember the “incident.” Weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, an unknown (at the time) assailant whacked the knee of figure skater Nancy Kerrigan with a pipe rendering her unable to compete in that year’s Figure Skating Championships. “Why,” we asked, as did Kerrigan in that now famous video clip while clutching her knee in tears. Later, the world wanted to also know “who.” I, Tonya answers both questions in one of the wildest, wackiest and most unexpectedly entertaining films of the season. And along the way we’re given some blistering insight into violence, physical abuse, and the lengths to which some will go for sports fame.

I, Tonya plays out like some kind of spirited cross between Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, and an ESPN 30 for 30 special with director Craig Gillespie (Finest Hours) mixing documentary, interviews, drama, and comedy while never fearing to break the fourth wall with voice-overs or on-camera confessions by small-time wanna-be goons. The story jumps back-and-forth through the decades – from interviews, to skating footage, to Harding’s (Margot Robbie) own wistful recollections of what was going on in her head at the time, the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother and husband, and how the whole tragic event went down.

Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers toss their tawdry subject matter into the whirring blender of women’s figure skating with all its glitz and glamour, and out pops a unique storytelling style that has us chuckling heartily while at the same time peeking uncomfortably through our fingers. It’s hard to turn away as we laugh at the ineptitude, and cringe at the abuse, all the while shaking out heads in wide-eyed amazement at how Gillespie pulled it off.

Gillespie’s story doesn’t focus as much on the unfortunate scandal that shook the figure skating world as it does on Tonya Harding’s rough background. And to understand the “why” one must learn about the “who.” Harding’s life was a mess, having grown up in a poor, rural broken home with a heavy-smoking, hard-driving mother, LaVona (Allison Janney) who tells us her daughter “skated better when she was enraged.” And when LaVona wasn’t giving her daughter a beatdown, Tonya’s boyfriend, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) was doing his part to keep her enraged.

Through all the “coaching,” Harding eventually rises to the top of the figure skating world and even becomes the first woman to land a triple axel in competition. Her success is especially remarkable in a sport that so heavily rewards class, privilege, and wholesomeness. The foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Harding was none of those things.

Robbie is truly amazing as she captures Harding’s hardscrabble persona and puts out a performance that is both heartbreakingly sad and refreshingly comedic. She walks that precarious tightrope of personifying one of sport’s most hated villains while doubling as the film’s main protagonist. But nearly outshining Robbie is Janney, whose wicked LaVona not only looks the part, but also knocks us dead with her portrayal of a heartlessly abusive mother. Rounding out the cast is the gaggle of actors, including Paul Walter Hauser, who portray the knuckleheads who almost didn’t pull off the knee whacking that shook the world. These hilarious scenes are full-on keystone cops.

I, Tonya is actually a quite complex story with a lot of moving parts. A healthy dose of broken psychology, bad parenting, and abusive relationships sends our emotions in all directions. Especially moving is a scene near the end that features a middle-aged Harding telling us how the media and America’s thirst for winning at the expense of the downtrodden subjected her to what she calls a second trial.

I,Tonya is black comedy. It is biting satire. It is gallows humor. And it is a penetrating tragedy that points glaringly at every one of its viewers. As the story comes to a close, it eventually dawns on us; we are the abusers in the story.

I, Tonya - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity.
119 mins
: Craig Gillespie
Steven Rogers
Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney
: Biography | Sport | Comedy
I, Tonya
Memorable Movie Quote: "I mean, come on! What kind of friggin' person bashes in their friend's knee? Who would do that to a friend?"
Theatrical Distributor:
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 8, 2017
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: Based on the unbelievable, but true events, I, TONYA is a darkly comedic tale of American figure skater, Tonya Harding, and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived, and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Featuring an iconic turn by Margot Robbie as the fiery Harding, a mustachioed Sebastian Stan as her impetuous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, a tour-de-force performance from Allison Janney as her acid-tongued mother, LaVona Golden, and an original screenplay by Steven Rogers, Craig Gillespie's I, TONYA is an absurd, irreverent, and piercing portrayal of Harding's life and career in all of its unchecked--and checkered--glory.

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I, Tonya - Movie Review

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