I, Tonya is a balls out, screw-ball crime comedy?, pulls-no-punches biography that is unlike any that I have ever, ever seen.
The film begins with an interesting title card letting us know what is in store is “Based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly.” This settles us in for the mockumentary based on interviews with the main characters in this convoluted tale. And man do you need to settle in, because you in for one hell of a rough ride.
We first get insight into Tonya’s hard knock life (literally) as we see her being degraded and verbally abused by her mother LaVona Harding, played by a fantastically cutting Allison Janney, who is definitely one of my favorite picks for supporting actress despite limited screen time. She makes the most of every second she is on-screen as Harding’s domineering, chain-smoking mother with a penchant for wearing fur. Tonya (played by an impressive, ballsy Margot Robbie) is a self-proclaimed red-neck, and painted as Oregon white trash. From her point of view, she was always a victim, and no matter how good she was at skating she was never going to be given her due. In one scene a judge tells her as much –– they want a wholesome American family. But as Tonya states, “Well I don’t have a wholesome American family.”
And that is the truth. Her first husband Jeff Gillooly (a completely unrecognizable Sebastian Stan) is a moustached, idiot and wife beater –– or is he? That uncertainty is prevalent throughout the film, because we are hearing this twisting tale from unreliable narrators. Even Harding is an unreliable narrator stating, ” everyone has their own truth.” The story put forth however, is as entertaining as it is questionable.
In the end you find yourself unsure of the entire story. There are only a few things you are certain of: Nancy Kerrigan got her knee bashed in on Jan. 6 1994, Tonya Harding got her dreams of Olympic gold or ever skating again dashed away in a harsh sentencing, and that we were all complicit in the demonizing of Ms. Harding. She swallows the bitter outcome with the same screw you attitude in which she lived her life. I, Tonya somehow continues to turn the tragic, but controversial tale of a disenfranchised, young talent into a comedy. We laugh at each blow that Harding takes, and gasp pityingly at the blow to Kerrigan. In the end it is just like Harding tells us she was loved for a minute, until she was hated and then eventually her life was a punchline.