“I, Tonya” brings redemption to the notorious Tonya Harding, a disgraced figure skater whose career was ruined by a scandal over 23 years ago. Each actor and actress gives an astonishing performance in the beautifully constructed film directed by Craig Gillespie.
The dark comedy biopic follows the life of Harding from her rough childhood with an abusive mother, her toxic relationship with her first husband Jeff Gillooly, rise to fame in the figure skating community to the attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan and its aftermath.
Margot Robbie portrays Harding alongside Emmy Award winner Allison Janney, who tackles the role of Harding’s mother, LaVona Fay Golden.
Robbie strips down from her glamorous self through dyed wigs and fake prosthetics to transform herself into Harding in the 1990s. Her raw performance shows vulnerability in a character who the public believes to be emotionless and cruel. Harding, who the media portrayed as the antagonist after the attack, took on a new narrative from culprit to victim.
As a young woman, Harding strived for the title of the greatest figure skater. At one point in her life, she was. In the 1991 Skate America, an international figure skating competition, Harding made history as the first woman in the United States to complete the triple axel during a competition. Later on in her career, she participated in the 1991 and 1994 Olympic Games. However, while Harding’s career was on a fast track to success, her private life was falling apart.
As a daughter, Harding suffered through verbal and physical abuse from her controlling mother. As a wife, she experienced the same treatment in the hands of a possessive husband. Finding courage and strength from her thriving career, Harding cut ties with her mother and divorced Gillooly. Nevertheless, her newfound freedom was soon shattered when the figure skating community denounced her for not having a picture-perfect family or the right image. Her desperation to save her career eventually led her back to her ex-husband and down a dark path.
Harding and Gillooly recruited Shawn Eckardt, Harding’s bodyguard, to frighten Kerrigan with crude letters in an attempt to salvage Harding’s chances in the 1994 Olympic Games. Things took a devastating turn when their scheme caused the attack on Kerrigan, which nearly ended her figure skating career and eventually ruined Harding’s.
The film is structured as a documentary from two different viewpoints, telling the story with the help of others to fill in the blanks. Based on the conflicting real life interviews of Harding and Gillooly, the film revolves around the different accounts that the two told screenwriter Steven Rogers.
The film, slightly biased in their favor to show Harding in a better light, tries to convince the audience of her innocence. It frames the attack on Kerrigan as an accident that Harding had a small role in and classifies her as an unwilling participant.
While the film is beautifully done, the audience should not forget the facts. Harding allegedly recruited Eckardt with Gillooly to scare her rival to better her chances in the Olympic Games. She withheld evidence from the FBI and pleaded guilty to the conspiracy of hindering prosecution of the attackers. Harding betrayed an individual that she once called a friend and teammate by trying to sabotage Kerrigan. While it is important to forgive, Harding was the victim and culprit of the scandal.