You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know about the notorious attack on former figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, who was forced to withdraw from a national competition after being bludgeoned on her lower thigh with a police baton. It was later revealed that the attack was planned by the ex-husband of rival skater, Tonya Harding. To this day, there are unanswered questions and outright confusion as to what really went down that day back in 1994. I was very young when this incident took place, but I recently revisited the whole ordeal when watching I, Tonya, and it was quite an enthralling ride.
While this movie is not solely about that infamous attack and Harding’s involvement with it, you can’t really talk about her career without it being the main focus. However, that being said, this movie is a really great telling of several pivotal moments in the life of Tonya Harding, communicated from different viewpoints. The more the film dives in to Harding’s recollection of her troubled upbringing and struggle to be as good of a figure skater as she was, the more you realize that she was a tireless victim for the majority of her life. It becomes very apparent that her unhealthy relationship with her cold, volatile mother (exquisitely played by Allison Janney) and her violent, abusive marriage to ex-husband Jeff Gillooly are major contributions to the damaged Harding’s insatiable drive to be the best skater, and ultimately, to be loved.
This film tells a very human and honest story that may genuinely have you questioning your opinion of Harding and the events that cause her downfall. It is told as a set of interviews recounting everything leading up to the assault on Kerrigan, and just like any story, there is more than one side. Figuring out the truth between what is said in the interviews and what is shown to us on screen is up to the audience, and kudos to Director Craig Gillespie and Writer Steven Rogers for creating it that way. They do a fine job at not making the story seem overly biased, which I imagine is difficult when there is a lot of “he said, she said” to a well-known and nationally publicized situation. You will come out of this film really just feeling sorry for Harding and her unfortunate life, even if you do blame her for what happened to Kerrigan.
Margot Robbie is exceptional as Harding, gliding flawlessly from angry and rebellious competitive skater to broken and defeated hasbeen. This is an Oscar-worthy performance from Robbie, and easily one of my favorites from her. Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly is disturbingly good, and their chemistry together is excellent. It is also worth mentioning that the costumes are fantastic, and the late 80s/early 90s vibe is definitely prevalent throughout.
It appears from the conducted interviews that many of the people involved do quite a bit of soul- searching after having reflected years later on everything that happened. The characters are portrayed as very vulnerable in that sense, which is a quality of the film I appreciate. Hearing the insight from Harding on how the world saw her after “The Incident” is rather thought-provoking, and is what really drives the movie home for me. Regardless of your feelings on the events that occur, this film definitely challenges you to see Harding as a human instead of a monster. I, Tonya has a lot of heart behind it, and it is fascinating to see through the eyes of the person who lived through it. This is already a favorite film of the year for me, and I highly recommend it.
Rating: 9 Dove Bars out of 10 (90%)