“The haters always say ‘Tonya, tell the truth’. There’s no such thing as truth!” No truer words have been spoken about ice skating’s most notorious ex-skater, and with I, Tonya, the time has come for us to find out…or has it?
In 1994, the world became fascinated with the latest celebrity scandal to hit American news after US figure skating champion Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by an unknown assailant whilst training for the 1994 Winter Olympics. The now infamous ‘Why?!’ footage caught Kerrigan pleading for an answer as to why someone would do such a heinous thing. A media frenzy erupted when all eyes turned to Kerrigan’s competitive opponent, Tonya Harding. And so, came one of the most controversial and bizarre scandals in sporting history. However, whilst millions have their assumptions surrounding this notorious attack, I, Tonya offers an ambiguous and complex account of what really happened – or at least, what each person thinks really happened.
Margot Robbie stars in the title role as we first Harding as a young child in 1970s Oregon, grow into a skating world champion in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The film kicks off in full swing as we see LaVona – portrayed perfectly by Allison Janney in a soon-to-be Oscar-winning role – aggressively enforcing four-year-old Tonya to embark on a long-suffering, albeit rewarding, ice skating career. After seeing natural talent in her daughter, she immediately imposes extreme force, obliging Tonya to pull out of school to pursue figure skating full-time. Tonya soon progresses into one of the most talented figure skaters in the world, but her alcoholic mother and abrasive behaviour soon brands her as ‘white trash’ and continuously jeopardises her position in the figure skating sport. The 15-year-old skater soon meets 18-year-old Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and the two embark on an abusive and tumultuous marriage, much to LaVona’s disdain.
Robbie is utterly compelling as Harding. Her rendition is one of great depth, veneration and detail, and it is evident in her performance that Robbie, who also serves as producer on the film, obtained a huge amount of knowledge and understanding of her character, whilst somehow maintaining the antithesis of vanity and narcissism to the point of pity. The same can be said of Robbie’s onscreen husband, Stan, whose embodiment of ignorance and inanity is one of bizarre onscreen flair in this paradoxical, satirical sporting world. However, Janney – who is taking award season by storm after scooping a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe, SAG, Critics Choice and BAFTA award – is the true driving force of the film, perfectly embodying the hate, misuse, distaste and scorn that surrounded Tonya her entire life.
In a film that examines a topic of discussion where legitimacy is notoriously lacking, I, Tonya makes sure its vast attention to detail lies in other areas – from its hairstyles to renowned skating routines, which Robbie embodies meticulously in every scene. The film deliberately tries not to be the run-in-the-mill Hollywood biopic. In fact, it spends its entirety sticking its finger up to exactly that. It flips the traditional biopic drama on its head by its brash soundtrack, breaking of the fourth wall and endorsement of its own unreliable witnesses.
I, Tonya is a continuous competition streak – from Harding vs. Kerrigan; Harding vs. USA; lower class vs. middle class; to satire vs. sombre, survival vs. crime, mockumentary vs. documentary, all of which are there to continuously interrogate this fact vs. fiction facade in its own subversive and contradictory way. I, Tonya is utterly unique, trendily trashy and impossible to ignore – much like the title character herself.