‘I, Tonya’: the price of perfection

Brian Lang

Margot Robbie in I, Tonya (2017)
Brian Lang

After the commencement of the Winter Olympics, Hollywood reflects on one of the biggest Olympic scandals in history: Tonya Harding. Craig Gillespie’s dark comedy “I, Tonya” is a passionate look at the tumultuous life of its controversial heroine.  

Tonya Harding was, at one point, the best figure skater in the world. She was the first American to land the notoriously difficult triple-axle and a two-time Olympian. However, all of this is overshadowed by the controversy of Nancy Kerrigan.

Kerrigan, another Olympic skater, was clubbed with a baton by a man associated with Harding. While accounts differ about the incident, Harding was barred from the U.S. Figure Skating Association; essentially prohibiting her from ever skating again.

“I, Tonya” is packed with acting powerhouses Margot Robbie, Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan, starring as Tonya, her mother, Lavona and Jeff, her ex-husband. None of these characters are really likable, but their performances are amazing.

Robbie shines in her role, showing the resilience of Harding against abuse. She manages to show every range of emotions, from the jubilant moment she landed the triple-axle, to numbness after the world turned on her.

Janney, who’s already taken home a Golden Globe for the role, plays one of the worst mothers in film history. She transforms into a foul-mouthed, tough as nails, monster, complete with a parrot on her shoulder.  You love to hate her.

Besides the acting, the cinematography is superb. The camerawork for the skating sequences are jaw-dropping, and the editing of the more technical skating moves is perfect; 90’s culture abounds, complete with bright windbreakers, bangs, and barrettes.

While meant to be a comedy, this film feels more like a tragedy. Tonya suffers constant physical and emotional abuse from her mother and husband, class-bias from the skating community and pure hatred from her nation.

While played for laughs at the beginning, the abuse quickly takes a somber turn. You constantly question whether you should be laughing or feeling sorry for Tonya.

The style of the movie is unique in its pastiche of voice-overs, recreated interviews and breaking the fourth wall. It drives home the point that all of the key players are telling a different story, each one putting the teller in the best light.

However, the movie clearly sides with Tonya. It left me feeling sorry for her, but also angry at the injustice done to her. “I, Tonya” implicates its audience as abusers since America also turned against her.

I believe that “I, Tonya” received one of the biggest snubs for Best Picture this awards season. It tells a sincere story, while still managing to pull off a dark comedy based on a historical event. There is something to be said for an accomplishment of this level.

Although this movie is unashamedly foul-mouthed and takes several liberties with the facts, it tells a fascinating story as it tries to sort out the myths and facts, leaving a definite message to its audience.

Rating: 8/10