Like VE Day, the Kennedy assassination or 9/11, my generation were given a new date in history: where were you when Tonya Harding took out Nancy Kerrigan? In 1994, it was an incident that captured the popular imagination because it combined two things - public figures and war. Of course, Tonya didn’t actually “take out” Kerrigan. Nancy went on to compete in the Olympics just seven weeks later and took home the silver, while Tonya was nowhere near the scene of the crime. But why let truth spoil a good story - that’s what Hollywood is for. Ha! Just kidding. The latest Aussie-Hollywood darling, Margot Robbie, stars in her first foray into the producing world with ‘I,Tonya’ - finally telling the story that didn’t fit the narrative of the 24-hour news cycle all those years ago. And believe it or not, it’s so much stranger and so much better than the fiction.
Tonya Harding (Robbie, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’) is not your typical figure skating princess. Raised poor by her emotionally and physically abusive mother LaVona (Allison Janney, ‘The Girl on the Train’), Tonya had a natural gift to keep her going - skating. Her gift meant she rose through the ranks quickly, starting at just four years old, but her “pedigree” meant she was always stopped short of reaching the very top. Tonya married young to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, ‘Captain America: Civil War’) and therefore entered the second abusive relationship of her life. Jeff made LaVona look like Mother Theresa. Their on-again off-again relationship all came to a crashing halt when Tonya reconciled with Jeff in an effort to better her image as a member of a “wholesome family” for the Olympic Committee. With her closest rival Nancy Kerrigan nipping at her heels, a plan is put in place to psych her competitor out in the lead-up to the 1994 Olympics, but it all backfires when Jeff’s friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser, TV's 'Kingdom'), believing he’s some sort of mad genius, takes the plan too far. Whack!
Told by recreating taped interviews and breaking the fourth wall, everyone involved helps thread a clearer and much more tragic picture of what really happened. Director Craig Gillespie (‘Lars and the Real Girl’) has pulled off the impossible. Not only has he managed to change a 23-year-old opinion, but he’s done so with humour and mockery while leaving his heroine unscathed by his satirical eye. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s talented, and we can’t seem to get enough of her - yet this is the first time Robbie has helmed a film, while at the same time putting her money where her mouth is - and it’s paid off. As the accolades come pouring in, we’re finally learning the full scope of what this Aussie firecracker is made of, and it’s gold - suck it, Kerrigan.
Director Craig Gillespie... managed to change a 23-year-old opinion but he’s done so with humour and mockery while leaving his heroine unscathed by his satirical eye.
So much more than a figure skating movie or those other dime-a-dozen competitive rivalry tales, ‘I, Tonya’ is about endurance and watching someone get up every day to live in a world and compete in a sport rigged - not to make her fail, but to fail her as a human being.
Made on a dime with a pitch-perfect cast - Allison Janney is magnificent, yet almost gets upstaged by a bird - you can forgive its cost-effective CGI work on Robbie’s ice skating facial replacement, or its on-the-nose soundtrack choices. Let’s face it: Gillespie hasn’t made a film worth a second glance in a decade. ‘I, Tonya’ is most definitely putting him back on the map, and his leading lady is proving she’s the star we’ve all being saying she is for years.