I, Tonya is billed as a film about skating, about the rivalry between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. In truth, it is so much more than that. It is a searing depiction of domestic violence, it takes on society’s expectation of how a woman should act, and it finally delivers an endearing portrait of a rather difficult woman who refused to be a victim.
Director Craig Gillespie balances dark, biting humour with chaos and tragedy. That is quite a feat. He draws you in by making you laugh, ridiculing the outlandish and exaggerating the characters and their behaviour. Then, when you have comfortably settled in for an hour and a half of good laughs, he punches you in the gut by smashing Tonya’s face in the mirror and by letting her mom accidentally stab her. You laugh and wince and cry and squirm in your seat.
What adds to the film’s quirky charm is that Gillespie tells the story from two different – and wildly opposing – views, those of Tonya and her ex-husband, Jeff. (They are both interviewed over a period of three years.) The only thing they agree on is how horrid LaVona, Tonya’s mom, is. Allison Janney gives it her all as this revolting, smoking, swearing crank of a woman.
Paul Walter Hauser steals the show as Jeff’s friend and Tonya’s bodyguard. He starts out dumb and potato-shaped, but slowly turns into something a little more evil and calculating, yet still potato-shaped. He is a joy to watch.
Tonya Harding is not an easy woman to portray. It is still beyond me how Margot Robbie made her likeable, how she made me care for Tonya and even feel empathy for her. I left the cinema struck by the tragedy of it all, by how the judges looked down their noses at her and how her promising career ended up in the bin.
For a bit of fun, watch Janney’s interview about Tonya on the red carpet at the Golden Globes: