The summation at the end of I, Tonya, the he-said/she-said retelling of Tonya Harding’s rise and fall, suggests that we, the public, want it easy. We want our heroes shiny and golden, and our villains, dark and menacing, and we have trouble accepting that the venn diagram that falls over most people has a big overlap in the middle. And most of the movie is spent detailing that middle as it comes to Harding (Margot Robbie), a prodigy in ice skating, spurred on by her cold, hard stage mom, Lavona (Allison Janney), who falls for the wrong guy, abusive dufus, Jeff Gilooly (Sebastian Stan). It’s a credit to the movie that it made me care about a subject (ice skating), characters (Harding/Gilooly), and general series of events (the Nancy Kerrigan incident), that I have zero interest in.
Harding is a complex figure. A self-admitted uneducated redneck whose sole focus in life was ice skating. The Kerrigan incident, every bit as prolific as OJ, is detailed in all its complicated, conflicting glory. An effect, gratefully used sparingly, has the actors talking directly to the audience when they are in a version of the story they don’t agree with. It’s a more honest approach to storytelling than most biopics do.
Robbie as Harding is phenomenal. In her hands, Harding isn’t just a complicated figure, but she’s a sympathetic struggler dealing with her shitty circumstances. In one beautiful scene, as Harding is putting on makeup before her Olympics comeback performance, Robbie quietly stares into the screen, applying blush and steeling herself up to prevent a breakdown. It’s harrowing. Further awesomeness comes from Janney who is just so aggressively hard as Lavona, spewing bitter bile every scene and thankfully avoiding any traps of sentimentality and movie plot growth.
We want it easy, I, Tonya, says, even as it presents an uneasy version of a complicated character, practically daring the audience to feel for someone we thought we had formed all of our opinions on years ago. It’s a great film that is funny, daring, charming and awesome.
My Grade – A-