Roadshow Entertainment, 2017.
Director, Craig Gillespie.
In 1979, Hollywood gave us an ice-skating arena love story called Ice Castles and notwithstanding some maudlin soppiness, the film still holds much virtue and would now be considered a minor romantic classic. If Ice Castles was about looking through the eyes of love as its theme song crooned – it’s step sister - I,Tonya, is a film about competitive figure skating looking through the lens of hard knocks and it’s not a pretty sight. What makes it even more impactful, is that it is also true…
Tonya Harding, a naturally talented American figure skater who was from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, just didn’t quite fit into the mould or image that the national ice-skating federation wanted to convey. When she was embroiled in a controversial incident involving a rival skater in the early 90’s, it put Harding and the professional ice-skating community under media and public scrutiny. Raised in a dysfunctional home, Tonya’s father left her abusive mother when she was young—a situation conveyed in the film, in which Tonya futilely begged with her father to take her with him—and Tonya was left in the sole charge of her erratically behaved, contemptible and narcissistic mother to take care of her; that is if care is what one wants to call it. It wasn’t even tough love, which is what Tonya’s mother ostensibly wanted her to be, tough! The physical and emotional abuse that Tonya was subjected to, is not tantamount to nurture and guidance.
Australian actress Margot Robbie has been given a break out role here and she is terrific as Tonya Harding, in a performance that earned her a best actress Oscar® nomination. In a role that is both emotionally and physically demanding, Robbie gives us a portrayal of a character that could be deemed self-destructive, disrespectful, contemptuous and yet is at once both sympathetic and tragic. Taught pragmatic skills by her father and having to navigate herself around a bitter and malicious mother, Robbie paints her Tonya as not so much of a victim, but of a girl who used whatever she was given to make her own name in a very competitive game, despite questionable choices she made regarding her personal and professional life.
Equally impressive is Allison Janney as LaVona, Tonya’s vile mother, who did earn a best supporting actress Oscar® for her turn here. While it might appear harsh and judgemental to attribute negative adjectives to her character, she doesn’t exactly give the viewer much of an out regarding her behaviour and personality. It is brave for any actor to take a chance on bringing to life a screen persona that isn’t going to win much favour with the audience.
Partly filmed in a pseudo-documentary style and boasting an excellent 70’s\80’s soundtrack, the film has also been given a sharp, blackly comic satirical edge to it’s narrative. Some of its sequences have a heightened intensity about them and while some of the characters may appear exaggerated or appear as caricatures, it needs to be reminded that this is a real story. I, Tonya, freezes the lid off the 6.0 perfection glitz and glamour side of professional ice-figure skating.