I, Tonya Reviewed
I, Tonya is about the life and career of figure-skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), her rise to fame and her fall into infamy. While it is mostly told in flashback, the movie features mockumentary-style interviews from Robbie-as-Harding and the important people in her life, including her mother LaVona Fay Golden (Allison Janney) and then-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).
While the movie is about Harding and wants the audience to sympathize with her, it doesn’t give her a pass or paint her as a hero. She makes a lot of bad choices as she gets to and through the Olympics. But the movie also provides context on how Harding may have gotten to where she was.
This might all be cripplingly depressing if most of the tragedy wasn't played for laughs. It seemed almost inevitable that Harding would wind up in some kind of scandal, given her life with an abusive mother, only to fall into the arms of her abusive husband. But in between getting punched and slammed into walls, Robbie would break the fourth wall and provide an aside as to some context in her life that would cut through the sadness. I even found myself laughing when she got stabbed with a steak knife, though I doubt I should have.
It is actually hard to tell what is true in the movie because the story deals with several unreliable narrators and the audience has to decide who to believe. But what seems undeniable is the unfair treatment Harding received in competition. Despite her talent, especially the fact that she was the first American woman to pull off the triple axel, the judges would still rate her poorly because of the way she presented herself. Robbie captured that unrefined drive and ambition that made Harding the competitor and personality the public came to know, and gives the best performance of her young career.
Despite the laughs, by the end of I, Tonya, I felt sad. Sad about how classism stacked the deck against Harding, about the violence she endured growing up, and sad that I—as someone who laughed at all the jokes—played a part in destroying everything she made. This story is a real-life American tragedy that I couldn’t pull my eyes away from, and will undoubtedly be in the running for major awards this season. A