Movie Review : I, Tonya (2017)
Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding's story go way beyond the confines of figure skating. It's a Great American Tragedy or, at least, it was treated like one by media when it happened. The conspiracy to hurt Kerrigan and wipe her out of Olympic contention became one of the great contemporary sports scandal because it happened in such an unlikely sport. Documentaries have been made about the ordeal since then, but a biopic like I, Tonya was a first. It's a complicated story to tell and I'm not sure how truthful the movie is, but it made something entertaining out of this weird and dark moment in sports history.
I, Tonya is the story of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), from birth to her lifetime banishment from USFSA competitions, due to her involvement with the case. There are only a handful of scenes featuring Nancy Kerrigan. The movie focuses on Harding's relationship with her abusive mother LaVona (Allison Janney) and her loser/emotionally dependent/abusive husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan), who was notoriously responsible for the attack on Kerrigan. I, Tonya basically tries to answer the question: what kind of fucked up people try to violently wipe out a competitor in a fucking figure skating competition?
There is very little truth to I, Tonya, but the movie wears this problem on its sleeve and has the characters frequently contradicting each other on screen and running sequences of events like they pretend it happened. It doesn't take its own protagonists very seriously and uses their contradictory statements as a vector for comedy. And it's often hilarious in a mind-boggling way, because it depicts Harding's ex-huband Jeff Gillooly and co-conspirator Shawn Eckardt as dim-witted lowlives who were unlikely to succeed. It felt weird to laugh at these two one scene and seeing Gillooly shove his then wife's head through a mirror the next. Which leads me to I, Tonya's issue with tone.
Steven Rogers and Craig Gillespie, respectively writer and director of I, Tonya, almost absolve Tonya Harding of any wrongdoing in the case. For a movie that treats the truth so casually and portrays its characters in such a goofy way, it draws pretty clear-cut conclusions on Harding's involvement with the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. I, Tonya is the American white trash tragedy of a downtrodden young woman lead by a powerful desire to be loved, because of her mother's systematic destruction of her ego. That leads her to trust the wrong people, yadda, yadda. On one hand, she's portrayed as an explosive, victimizing white trash and on the other, it was never really her fault. I had a difficult time with that.
I liked I, Tonya. I thought it was a perfect movie for the era of "fake news". It danced around the notion of truth and built a narrative around facts that didn't reveal everything. I can live with that. What I had a bigger problem with was I, Tonya's indecisiveness between taking its own protagonist seriously and making a joke of everything else, like she was a princess kidnapped by an army of white trash clowns. It was still an enjoyable movie by any means. It might just not be the game-changing experience everyone talked about when it first came out.