I, Tonya (9/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 119 minutes.
Although people of a
certain age are very familiar with the Tonya Harding–Nancy Kerrigan
incident before the 1994 winter Olympics, Margot Robbie, who plays
Harding in this biopic had never heard of either of them as she was
raised in Australia and was a mere child when it all happened.
Even so, she does an
outstanding job of playing Harding. Directed by Craig Gillespie, who was
responsible for the dismal Lars and the Real Girl (2007), and
written by Stephen Rogers, this traces Harding’s life from when we first
meet her at age 4 until the end of the film at age 44.
If you enter the
picture with a preconceived notion of Tonya Harding, as I did, this will
be an eye-opening experience. Burdened by a hard, loveless mother,
Lavona Golden (a scintillatingly hateful Allison Janney), it doesn’t
appear from this film that she ever had a speck of love from anybody in
her entire life. Even when she is a precocious four-year-old ice skater,
her mother cuts her no slack.
The movie is
extremely well done both from a story point of view and for the
execution, especially of the ice-skating scenes. I was amazed to see
that Robbie was doing most of the skating, but there are tracking shots
from her skates up to her face that make it pretty clear that most of
the skating is done by her. It turns out that she had played ice hockey
as a teenager so knew her way around ice skates. But figure skating is
not ice hockey and there were some things she just could not do and
needed a double, like the triple axel. Harding was the first woman to
perform a triple axel so even the doubles couldn’t execute that, but
movie magic makes it look like they did, although not many people will
be sophisticated enough to know whether she did or not.
All of the acting is
good. Sebastian Stan plays her first husband, intelligence-challenged
Jeff Gillooly. But good as Robbie and Stan and Janney are the actor who
stole the movie for me was Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Gillooly’s
buddy, Sean Eckhardt, who turns out to be the real villain in the film.
If Gillooly comes across as a witless dope, Eckhardt makes him appear
Einstein-like. Hauser’s performance is one of the highlights of the
film. Evil as their stupidity was, and as heart-breakingly damaging as
it was to Tonya, the movie plays it for laughs, and it works.
interviewed most of the participants, especially Harding and Gillooly,
and got such differing explanations of what happened from them, that’s
the way he made his movie. Gillooly and Harding each tell their story
from their point of view and it makes the movie far more interesting
than it might have been as just a straight biopic.
If you don’t remember
the incident, maybe the movie won’t be as meaningful. But I remember it
very well and found the movie to be fascinating.