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I, Tonya (R)




I, Tonya (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

01/25/18
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



Tonya Harding’s skating skill isn’t enough to help her overcome the disdain sports officialdom and the public have for her background in I, Tonya, a funny but complicated bio-pic.

With interviews-to-camera style narration by several characters, this movie presents the life of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), who is portrayed here as a strong and talented athlete who is emotionally and physically abused by her demanding mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), and by her dimwitted husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). While LaVona’s berating of Tonya might have occasionally spurred her to work hard to achieve out on the ice, it also pushes Tonya into a too-young marriage with Jeff. 
This tumultuous background (and her lack of money for fancy costumes and the right ice skater look) hurts Tonya’s attempts at skating superstardom — a judge even tells her that she is not the type of person the sport wants as its representative to the world at the Olympics. But she also falls back on “it’s not my fault”-isms when she has skating (and life) mishaps.
She has some bright spots, though, notably 1991 when she performs the difficult triple axel and has some of the best skating competitions of her life. Even after 1992 Olympics disappointments, she works hard and trains to compete in 1994. But, at least in the movie, the attempt to portray a happy family life with Jeff let him and his even stupider friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) into her life, leading to what they all call “the incident” involving some very inept criminals and an attack on Tonya’s competitor Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). 
I don’t entirely know how I feel about this movie’s subject matter. I don’t know enough to feel entirely comfortable with Tonya Harding being portrayed as a working-class hero. Or feminist hero. Or (mostly) the victim. Or, alternate view of what this movie is saying, the Olympian America Deserves. And Nancy Kerrigan is, in the absence of any real character definition, definitely getting the Princess Edit, which doesn’t feel fair either.
If you can put that aside, there is some fun, some of it uneasy fun, to be had here. Robbie and Janey turn in solid performances. These actresses and their characters’ toxic mother-daughter relationship are fighting it out in the same award space as Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird. This is by far a more exaggerated cartoonish version (Metcalf’s character is not a villain; Janey’s clearly is). But both women here bring a kind of hard-edged cynicism that works with these characters.
The movie also does a good job of underlining just how merit-based achievement at this level of sports isn’t. Talent, the kind of talent that requires extreme dedication and discipline to turn into anything, might be a ticket to success but that ticket isn’t free. And, in exchange for requiring money and a certain kind of socioeconomic background, athletics at this level seems to bring just as much potential for suffering as it does for achievement.
I, Tonya is funny but this is a bleak and cynical movie. Sure, as someone with living memory of this, I found something interesting about seeing a version, however truthful this might be, of events. I laughed, but I don’t particularly feel good about laughing. B- 
Rated R for pervasive language, violence and some sexual content/nudity. Directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers, I, Tonya is two hours long and distributed by Neon.
 





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