By: Catherine Lillie
Directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, and Sebastian Stan, I, Tonya serves to correct the record, giving a voice to the young Tonya Harding whose narrative was originally shaped by a long and vicious media cycle. Margot Robbie provides a brilliant performance, depicting the young Harding as a scrappy, irreverent young woman who was a slave to her own circumstances. Domestic abuse and poverty are among the chief obstacles Harding is set to face, and Robbie provides the audience with a character that the audience can easily empathize with. From her fiery and often violent encounters with her mother (Allison Janney), to the frequent depictions of spousal abuse from her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), we see Harding as a vulnerable young woman with a tumultuous personal life who only had true control over her figure skating.
Gillespie frames the narrative with staged interviews (“based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly”) with the characters – each wearing age makeup to appear significantly older – reflecting on their past experiences and on significant events that took place throughout Tonya’s skating career. In between the interview narration, we see dramatizations of events in Tonya’s life in vibrant, messy color, with the actors frequently breaking the fourth wall as the narration clashes with what is being shown in the scene. Interestingly, the infamous knee-bashing scandal involving rival skater Nancy Kerrigan takes a backseat in the film, despite the fact that it was the incident that made Tonya Harding most famous. Instead, Gillespie chooses to focus on Tonya’s inner turmoil – on the events that lead her up to the Kerrigan scandal and the downward spiral the ensued shortly after. In Gillespie’s I, Tonya, Harding is a young, vulnerable girl who was more of a victim and less of a villain than anyone had previously believed.
Is this film biased? Definitely. It portrays Tonya entirely as the victim, practically absolving her of any wrongdoing or involvement in the events that lead to the downfall of her career. However, this bias provides a perspective that was sorely lacking in the early 1990s. For those who lived through the infamous scandal, this film provides another viewpoint that audiences can use to formulate a new opinion about what really happened to Nancy Kerrigan on the ice that day in 1994. Despite its bias, this film is well-crafted and is incredibly entertaining, but be warned – it exposes every gory detail of Harding’s life, from her mother’s abuse and constant swearing to her husband’s violent tendencies. It’s a fast-paced, wild ride of a movie that might leave you with more questions than answers, which is exactly what I believe was Gillespie’s main goal all along.