Thursday, January 25, 2018

I, Tonya

Despite her talents, Tonya Harding was always going to face challenges achieving her dreams due to classism and standards around femininity in the world of figure skating. The movie I, Tonya gives the back story of Tonya's life and shows how she overcame adversity to become a US figure skating champion in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is a mockumentary-style film which uses interviews to present the often times contradictory perspectives of the main players in Tonya's life in the lead up and aftermath of the infamous 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan before the Winter Olympics.

Tonya (Margot Robbie) did not have an easy life growing up in Portland, Oregon and was the victim of family violence starting with her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) and then her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who she married at 19 years old. The movie showcases Tonya's rise in figure skating, with one of the main highlights being the first American woman to land a triple axle jump in competition in 1991. From there Tonya struggled, finishing fourth in the 1992 Winter Olympics. She gave international competition one last shot by trying to make the 1994 Winter Olympics team. The movie focuses a lot on this period and leaves it up to the viewer to decide how much Tonya knew about the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.

The other narrative of the film is around celebrity culture and the media that drives it. In one of the most pointed scenes in the film Tonya breaks down the fourth wall and calls out the viewer, saying that we are all her abusers. The media circus around her in 1994 was unrelenting (and this was pre-internet), and only moved on when the next big story broke - O. J. Simpson and the murder of Nicole Brown. Tonya's life ban from figure skating by the US Figure Skating Association meant she could no longer professionally be involved in the sport she loved and dedicated her life to. The film ends with Tonya's short lived boxing career (which I had forgotten about).

Overall I, Tonya is a good film, with great performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. It also makes you wonder if Tonya was skating today instead of 25 years ago what kind of reception she would receive from judges and the public.

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