I, Tonya

Check out I, Tonya – the new Margot Robbie film about Tonya Harding’s life, ice skating, abuse, the Olympics, taking a baton to a skater’s knee, and a host of unreliability narrators. It’s almost Rashomon if, instead of samurai, it featured ice skaters and the dirtbags who love them.
The film is a fictionalized account of Harding’s life and the attempt on Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. It is told via present day faux-interviews and flashbacks to how things might have gone down… with the characters assuring you this or that did NOT happen. Sometimes these asides to the audience are via the interviews, sometimes the characters break the fourth wall in their flashback. It’s a pretty neat narrative construct to get around title cards or old-fashioned narration.
And it works. This is a really good movie… it’s a drama or a biopic technically but I think it works just as easily as a dark comedy. Some will say it’s punching down to the dirt poor characters, and it does a little of that but its really an attempt to soft-shoe around whether or not Harding was victim or victimized. In many ways, it’s an attempt to clean up her image in the same way Marcia Clark was rehabilitated by the OJ Simpson show last year.
But it doesn’t 100% declare her innocent (or guilty). It skirts to the edge and allows her to chastise the audience for basically turning her into a punchline based on a tabloid journalism narrative. And the movie is probably right… I’m watching this flick and realized I had no idea Harding’s actual backstory. I just have a vague memory from the time where Karrigan was the princess (maybe entitled “why me!?!” she cries) and Harding was not classy somehow (and was surrounded by goons). And some of that is true, according to the movie, and some of it’s exaggerated.
As Harding says in the movie, “Nancy gets hit once and it’s a news story for months, I get hit all my life and no one gives a damn”.
Margot Robbie plays Harding and she’s pretty amazing. Allison Janney is getting recognition (and a Golden Globe) for playing her mother and she’s REALLY good. But I think Robbie is giving a great, warts-and-all performance too. I can’t say if she’s doing a good Harding impersonation but she’s certainly nailed her American accent. And she’s willing to look bad or ridiculous (or battered) as required. It’s a pretty ego-less performance for a lady who could just go for the glam rolls if she wanted.
The film also does a good job (in my novice eye) of presenting the ice skating and explaining why Harding was, at one point, so damn good. They do some face swapping with Harding over professional skaters that people have said is bad but I was actually watching her feet through most of the performances so I didn’t notice. The film also has the good grace to show Harding’s actual performance during the end credits and that’s fun to see (along with the actual dialog footage of some of the scenes in the flick). It’s all worth waiting around for.
So, yes, this is a really good movie, regardless of how much of the sordid story you know or remember. And regardless of how much you care about figuring skating. I enjoyed this flick and it gave me new insight on a story I haven’t thought of in years but could still tell you who was involved (that info is permanently in my memory banks for some reason). I recommend the flick… it’s a good one.
Score: 88

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