“I, Tonya” Spins the Tale of an Olympic Dream Turned Nightmare

by Rita Cook on February 19, 2018 in Entertainment, Film, Sports,

Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace • Rated R

To begin, “I, Tonya” is just one minute shy of two hours. While the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan could have certainly been told in less, as the layers of this modern Olympic legend unfold, the drama will keep you watching. In fact, the film provides much important background to this now infamous event and notorious skating incident that is necessary to the telling of the sad tale.

Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) and Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) in I, Tonya. Photo courtesy NEON and 30WEST

The real stunner here is Margot Robbie, who plays Harding. She takes this bad girl role and turns it into an award-winning performance. For a time, it seemed all Harding wanted to do was skate and be happy. But, with a mother who would make any young child fear the morning, the young Harding was soon doing feats on the ice beyond her tender years. This story in a story begs the question: Was Harding skating because of how much she hated her home life, or was that what gave her the drive to perform?

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) at the 1994 Olympics in I, Tonya. Photo courtesy NEON and 30WEST

Robbie becomes Harding, getting under her skin and fluidly embracing the persona of a woman hated by the entire the sports world.

As Harding’s mother, Allison Janney is once again in amazing form. Janney is an actress that continually nails every role; my admiration for her in this role is especially strong because she plays it with no fear. Another of the cast to get it right is Sebastian Stan, who plays Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly.

LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) and her pet bird in I, Tonya. Janney is a 2018 Academy Award nominee for her role. Photo courtesy NEON and 30WEST

The format of the film also worked for me, including as it does a series of interviews with Harding—in a run-of-the-mill kitchen, her mother, her ex-husband (who, it seems, was the idiot behind the scandal) and his friend – who is even more befuddled. While at times you could be excused for thinking “I, Tonya” is telling a campy version of the story, the film in fact is quite sincere.

For those who might not be familiar with the Tonya Harding story, it was in 1991 that she became the first American woman to complete a triple axel during a competition. She continued to win—and lose—various competitions until, in 1994, her husband set out to hurt one of Harding’s fiercest competitors (Nancy Kerrigan) to give his wife the edge.

The sensationalism of the Harding story could not have been made up.

 

Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) watches a routine in I, Tonya. Photo courtesy NEON and 30WEST

Craig Gillespie did a worthy job of directing “I, Tonya,” making the story come alive. Even though you know what is going to happen since it is a true story, the director and actors keep the story interesting. In fact, you will enjoy taking the ride all over again and sharing in the moments.

With the feel of films like “Best in Show,” these mockumentary-style stories share a look at some of life’s more interesting events. They give us a salutary lesson, and the sincere hope we are never in such an escapade ourselves and having to share in such a fail.


Rita Cook is President of the North Texas Film Critics Association.
Cover photo: Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) after landing the triple axel in “I, Tonya,” courtesy of NEON and 30WEST