Tales of an Olympic Ice Queen: I, Tonya Review
Any sport, as we all know, has some degree of competition to it. That competition can sometimes get heated. That heat gets turned up to a criminal level in the movie I, Tonya, a film based on the testimony of those who lived the events. Margot Robbie stars as Tonya Harding, a figure skater who was one of the best in the world in the early 1990s. She came from a home in Oregon where her mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) pushed her into skating at a young age. The little one, however, showed a talent beyond her years, which gets the attention of Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), a local instructor. Young Tanya starts to win competitions, but LaVona continues to be demanding and, according to Tonya, abusive. As a teen, she met Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a boy she hoped would take her away from her mother's mistreatment. She instead received more of the same.
The bad feelings carry over to the ice, where Harding feels she's unfairly being downgraded by judges because of her lower class background. She has a move no other skater does - she successfully pulls a triple axel. She eventually perseveres and qualifies to compete in the 1992 Calgary Winter Olympics. On the world's biggest stage, though, she falters and finishes in fourth place. She quits the sport and starts working as a waitress. Diane catches up to her to tell her the next Winter Olympics are just two years away. With Diane's help, Tonya gets back into skating shape and prepares to earn a spot on the Lillehammer team along with fellow Calgary teammate Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). When a threat comes Harding's way, Jeff and friend and Harding bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) decide to make a threat of their own against Kerrigan. While Tonya insists the threats be made anonymously through the mail, the men put a different plan in motion.
I, Tonya is a fascinating and darkly comic look at the career of a skater whose career accomplishments became overshadowed by an infamous incident. The testimony is set in the present day, save for the videotaped recollections of Eckhardt, who died in 2007. The narratives, which include talk of the news coverage from former Hard Copy producer Martin Maddox (Bobby Cannavale), range from humor to shame to defensiveness. Everybody wants to set the record straight, but nobody creates much of a consistent narrative, though they all agree Harding had a hard time with both her skating and domestic life. Director Craig Gillespie, whose previous credits include a remake of Fright Night and the quirky Lars And The Real Girl, shows how these people turned a potential career highlight into anything but that. Screenwriter Steven Rogers smartly juggles all of these stories, setting the stage for trouble.
Robbie and Janney have received deserved acclaim for their work here. Robbie, as Tonya, shows the frustration of a skater who feels she never really got a break. She does make Harding a bit of a sympathetic character because of the problems she had with the people who claimed to either love or care about her. She also has anger issues, such as the scene where she confronts a judge about a bad score. She unhappily lives with a career she feels was incomplete. Janney lives frustration as a woman who works as a waitress and has had five different husbands, including Tonya's loving biological father. She calls the parrot on her shoulder her most faithful man, and never seems to have any love or sympathy for her daughter. Stan, as Jeff, behaves aggressively during his time with Tonya, but seems very quiet as the present day man. Hauser does well as the self-proclaimed mastermind Shawn, making plans from the home of his parents, where he lived. Cannavale puts this tale into perspective as someone who helped to break the story, and smiles at the many missteps by the Harding team. Mckenna Grace also makes a brief, but impressive, appearance as the young Tonya, who can't stop the father she loves from leaving, despite her efforts.
There is no excuse for anyone planning or implying an attack on someone else. I, Tonya collects the accounts from its main characters and leaves viewers to wonder how much of the truth they're hearing. Nobody speaks with pride about the events, but none of them take a hard look at themselves in the mirror. Tonya Harding was once told her presentation was lacking, in spite of the skating she brought to the rink. Presentation still lacks in the words they speak.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give I, Tonya four stars. Skating away on the thin ice of a needlessly bad time.