I, Tonya

Rating:

I, Trainwreck

Main Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan

Director: Craig Gillespie

Do you all remember the Tonya Harding scandal from your real lives? I definitely do. I love the Olympics, and like lots of us become an expert on luge, snowboarding, and of course figure skating every four years. And speed skating. And sometimes curling, but only when desperate. So of course I vividly recall Nancy Kerrigan’s sobbing face all over the news after she was assaulted before the 1992 games. And the incredible hoopla that followed as fellow skater Harding was accused of playing a role. It was absolutely inevitable that someone, someday, was going to make a movie about this fiasco. I’m so very glad that it turned out to be this movie – I, Tonya.

In this weird mash up of biopic, mockumentary, and social commentary, we learn the “true” story of what happened during those fateful weeks, as well as the life story of our leading lady – Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie). We start with interviews with Tonya, done at some unnamed time shortly following the scandal. She recounts her sad tale, beginning when she started skating at age four with the “help” of her abrasive mother LaVona (Allison Janney – who took home a well-earned Oscar for this role).  We see her early teen years (the braces – amazing), through to her relationship with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and beyond.  The whole thing is put together as part interview with the major players and part traditional biopic. The combination is fascinating, very much a slow motion train wreck.

I, Tonya is exactly what it needs to be to do justice to this ridiculous, stupid, and sometimes tragic story of people being their worst selves. We get abuse and codependency, snobbery and conceit, desperation and hubris, sometimes all at once. Nobody is spared the spotlight that shone so brightly on people who had no idea how to handle the pressure of their juvenile choices. Thanks to an incredible script written by Steven Rogers (who was previously known mostly for very traditional rom/coms and feel good dramedies about family dynamics) and very deft direction by Gillespie this sordid tale becomes funny, cringe-worthy, and even a little sad (if you can get over the stupidity).

Every performance is good – most of them are great. Standouts are Janney as LaVona and Paul Walter Houser as Gillooly’s friend Shawn. LaVona is absolutely horrible and Janney gets every last bit of gruesome out of her. The character of Shawn is fascinating – he may be the stupidest mastermind of all time. His delusions of grandeur, as he plots from his parents’ basement, are hilarious and hideous and Houser makes it all work.

Overall, I, Tonya is pretty much the perfect movie to tell the story of this bunch of fools and their folly that played out on the world stage.  It never takes itself too seriously, but doesn’t gloss over the ugliness that was a very real part of Tonya Harding’s life. The 1980s are depicted with hysterical accuracy, right down to those giant bangs – it feels like the time period is actually partially to blame for the entire mess. The movie is ingenious. Even though its story is one that most adults thought they already knew, there is both joy and horror in watching it all come crashing together. Highly recommended.

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