PLOT- A biopic on Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, from her difficult childhood to reflecting on the infamous Nancy Kerrigan incident.
LIKE- I, Tonya was the 2017 film that I was most looking forward to seeing in theaters. Since we live in a small mountain town, I had to wait until I visited a city to catch it. Luckily, it was still playing at my favorite Regal theater in downtown Portland, during my visit last week.
I, Tonya exceeded my expectations. I knew that it would have plenty of dark humor, but it also has a lot of heart. Kerrigan incident aside, it's impossible not to feel compassion for Harding (Margot Robbie). She had a very difficult life, growing up poor in a broken home. Her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney) was demanding and abusive. It seemed no matter how hard she worked or how much talent she possessed, Harding struggled to catch a break when it came to fitting in with the figure skating community. Her family couldn't afford the fancy costumes and she lacked a sense of refinement, a "princess" quality. She could have an excellent skate and still be judged lower based on her appearance.
Not fitting in was also a problem off of the ice. Her mother pulled her out of high school, so that Harding could focus on skating. She didn't have friends and when her first husband, Jeff Gillooly ( Sebastian Stan), came into her life, she was still a teenager. He was her first boyfriend and they married when she was nineteen. She transitioned from an abusive mother to an abusive husband. There is a very sobering theme about how abuse was simply part of her life. She knew it was wrong, but she didn't know a different life. Harding is a very isolated and awkward person. Beyond ice skating, she was not raised with the tools that she needed to really succeed in life.
Although I, Tonya has earned award nominations for Robbie and Janney, I fear that based on the theme and tone, that it won't be a serious contender. It's a shame, because Robbie is brilliant. I actually think she has a meatier and less safe role than the other best actress nominees. Personally, I think Robbie has been fabulous in every movie that I've seen her in. Janney and Stan are also great in supporting roles. Also notable, is Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn Eckardt. Eckardt was Gillooly's friend and instrumental in planning the attack on Kerrigan. The guy is a total goof and it's clear than he is no criminal mastermind. The craziest parts of the movie involve Eckardt and the Kerrigan incident. The story is so crazy and unbelievable, yet this part of I, Tonya checks out factually. In fact, much of the movie checks out factually, particularly the more outrageous parts.
I, Tonya is told in a narrative with Tonya breaking the fourth wall to address the audience. This is especially effective when she speaks about the public, you in the audience, judging her. And honestly, who didn't judge Harding? She's right. We should feel guilty for it. The Kerrigan incident occurred in the early 90's, before social media. I wondered what Harding's life would be like, if this had all happened now. I think it wouldn't be as shocking. I think it would have been news, but in an era where we are so inundated with news and where celebrities who exhibit bad behavior are rewarded, I think the story would have blown over fast. This didn't happen of course and Harding's life was forever changed. One of the most heart breaking scenes in I, Tonya, is when a judge bans her from skating. She doesn't have an education or a fall-back plan, and this crushes her. She pleads for jail time in exchange for being allowed to skate, but the judge won't make a deal.
DISLIKE- Nothing. I, Tonya is compelling, shocking, and has heart.
RECOMMEND- Yes! I, Tonya is one of my top films of 2017. Well worth seeing in theaters.