I, Tonya is a biopic film about a woman named Tonya Harding; an ex-figure skater who found herself connected to an attack on her skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan in 1994.
The film, directed by Australian Craig Gillespie, takes an inside look at the upbringing of Harding as well as the people closest to her. The movie begins by interviewing the characters when they are older, as they look back on her life and controversies. This is an interesting way to tell a story but is also smart because many people already know how the story ends, so interviewing what would now be their current selves is a great way to acknowledge this.
The film does a great job at giving a nod to the eighties and nineties while portraying Harding’s younger years, all while making the audience laugh with some very dark comedy. The movie also lets us know the direction they are taking which is that they are absolutely on her side. We see her become the subject of abuse from her mother, acted by Allison Janney, who is the most extreme version of an aggressive sports mum I have ever seen. We also see Harding’s dad take off and later stop paying alimony. It is safe to say that her upbringing wasn’t the best, and perhaps she is not to blame for what transpired later. Another interesting technique used throughout the film is that the characters will often break the fourth wall to stop and have a quick chat with the audience. This felt very reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), which is also an interesting biopic picture.
The story marches on and we continue to see Harding training under the guidance of her bully mother. While the former figure skater is seen to have great skating skills, she just doesn’t fit in with the other skaters and all of the judges score her harshly. Her clothes aren’t fancy enough and she doesn’t portray the wholesome family ideal that many skating organisations want her to portray. We also see her meeting her future husband. They quickly get married and he begins to beat her. This is where the film takes an interesting turn.
It felt like the movie moved from a dark comedy to a film about feminism. We see Harding support herself financially, stand-up to the judges and continue to fall under the hands of her abusive husband, all while breaking records with her ice-skating skills. There is one standout scene where we see a police officer pull over her husband while she is bleeding in the passenger seat, after suffering from yet another beating. The officer completely ignores this and lets her husband back in the car with her. I felt this clearly gave a nod to women who have experienced similar situations and accurately portrays what it can be like to be in an abusive relationship.
The events that later unravel surrounding the incident with Nancy Kerrigan is portrayed in a way that insinuates that Harding is innocent. While it is nice to see this take, at times it feels like this is shoved in the audience’s face. I would further be interested to watch a biopic based on the story and life of Nancy Kerrigan to see her overcome the struggles she went through.
The story in I, Tonya is very interesting and gives an insight into what the pressures must be like for those who are competitive athletes. Margot Robbie certainly buffed up for the role and it was refreshing to see her play a juicier character, rather than the typical hot blonde. Robbie and Janney were the standout performances in this flick, but the majority of other characters fell short without much substance. While I felt the film was a little over the top at times, this is also what gave it the great comedic timing that it had. All in all, it is a great story of perseverance and getting back up again, no matter what life throws at you.
Tonya is one of the only 8 women in the world who has landed the triple axel to this day. Because of this, they were unable to find a stunt double who could perform this move and had to use CGI to re-enact Tonya’s amazing triumph.