I, Tonya - Movie Review

March 27, 2018

👍👍👍out of 4👍

I, Tonya is based on US figure skater, Tonya Harding and the events that led to and followed the infamous assault on another US figure skater, Nancy Kerrigan in 1994.  I was interested in seeing this movie as soon as I heard one was made, because I remember this case so vividly.  I was 14 at the time and our house was divided on this case.  I was team Harding from the start, even at 14 and you can guess from there who's team everyone else was on.  Why? Because I knew there was more to the story and because everyone was being fed a steady diet of pure, venomous hate for this young 23 year old woman before we ever knew the story.  Tonya was not what you might consider, America's sweetheart, and I loved that about her!  She grew up poor, not poised or graceful when held up next to the other figure skaters and that made her more interesting, to me anyway.  Who wants to be like everyone else?  Did I mention she was the first to perform a triple axel, ever!  Yeah, no small feat.

Now to the movie.  The movie is based on actual interview footage with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gilloly years after the incident.  It has two outstanding actresses, Margot Robbie plays Tonya and Allison Janney plays Tonya's abusive, potty-mouth, "don't-give-a-damn" mother, Lavona Golden and she is damn good! I mean she did win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, in case you missed it.  Margot was nominated for Best Actress, the award went to Frances McDormand.  Tonya had an awful life, she went from an abusive mother to an abusive husband, Jeff Gilloly, both equally emotionally, physically and mentally abusive.  There is a scene when Tonya is maybe 11 years old, sitting at the kitchen table having a bowl of soup and her mother passes by and violently kicks the chair from under her and she falls to the ground.  Another scene where she is having an argument with her mother who has just called her the most vile things I have ever heard, her mother gets up to strike her, Tonya gets up to move away, her mother throws a plate right at her followed by a knife, which she lands right in her arm.  Her mother has just stabbed Tonya, a final last straw.  With no money, no education, no place to go she moves in with the devil she knows, cue Jeff who began his abuse while they were dating.  There are many scenes where she is blooded and bruised, one argument was over chocolate ice cream bars.  These are really hard scenes to watch and I think a trick used was to show Tonya "giving as good as she got" by fighting her husband back or chasing him out with a rifle or a stop in the middle of the scene where she speaks directly to the audience to break you out of what is going on in a comedic way. It is still jaw dropping and disturbing.  After some discussion with a friend about the film, I realize that having it played any other way just wouldn't work.  The audience wouldn't be able to watch as this woman suffers unspeakable abuse and I get that.  But at the same time, Tonya was victimized her entire life and then again by the media and the entire country.  Understanding how abuse works and the lifelong effects it can have on its survivors, it is unsettling and hard to find any humor.  

Tonya was not dealt a fair hand from the start and while some people might argue, who has? I think we all can agree some definitely have it worse than others, Tonya would fit this definition.  The cast was exceptional, the script was smart and cheeky, and the period costumes, hair and makeup were perfection.

Bottomline: The film seeks to give a different version of the events leading up to the infamous event that rocked the US in 1994 by allowing a story untold to unfold without prejudice before the audiences' eyes.  Do they hit the mark, you decide.  

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