Tonya, Who?

To be clear: I knew zip about Tonya Harding before seeing this movie.

I had no clue she was an Olympic figure skater or about her controversial criminal record.

Yet I, Tonya had me spellbound.

Unlike stories on Tonya in the past that focus on her part in the attack against then-competitor Nancy Kerrigan, this dark comedy is largely about her life outside the rink and courtroom.

It is centered on the abusive home life of Tonya (played by Margot Robbie). Director Craig Gillespie could have easily spun a depressing tale from her troubled childhood, but true to Harding’s personality, the film uses grit and humor to skate through adversity.

This is keenly felt in the scene where Tonya’s mother, LaVona Fay Golden (played by Allison Janney), shouts and flings a knife her daughter. Slowly, Tonya dislodges the knife from her arm. Her eyes flicker with hurt and betrayal--but it doesn’t last long.

She slams the bloody knife on the table and stares at the audience. “And that’s when I knew it was time to move out,” she coolly scoffs, then charges straight into the next scene-- never looking back at her mother’s face, still frozen with horror.

Though what really hit the mark for me were The Office interview-style cutaways. Always outrageously contradictory, they managed to balance out the characters. The vulnerability of Tonya was countered with her belligerent commentary. Her mother’s violent blows were dulled with side-splitting obscenities downed with a quick swig of brandy. By the end, it was near impossible to pick who to love and hate, let alone believe.

I, Tonya was equally impressive visually. I particularly admired the scene just after Tonya leaves her ex-husband where the camera, mimicking a skater, glides backwards out of the house. The skating scenes were well-edited, though there were a few moments where it was obvious the crew was fiddling around to avoid shots with Robbie’s face and the stunt double’s body.

After seeing this movie, I can’t say I know the truth about Tonya Harding. Nobody probably ever will. But this masterfully-executed, snappy version of her story is certain to delight and touch the hearts of Tonya-haters, Tonya-lovers, and Tonya-who?-ers alike.

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