Skating By (I, Tonya, 2017)
I will be honest…all I really remember about the Nancy Kerrigan story is that the talented skater and Olympic Hopeful was brutally assaulted, leaving her with a broken knee. What followed was pretty insane. It became apparent that her attack was coordinated by people related to her competition…Tonya Harding. Harding, her husband, her bodyguard and two other individuals apparently colluded to commit the crime.
I, Tonya tells the story in a darkly comic fashion. Showing Hardings tough childhood, the film frames Tonya as a victim who struggles to break free. The early film is actually quite heartbreaking as young Tonya, a talented skater at age four, manages to get the attention of a reluctant trainer. Her mother is cruel and absolutely horrific in her push for her daughter to succeed. The is a gut wrenching moment as her father drives away and Tonya is tearfully begging him to take her with him (McKenna Grace is wonderfully touching in her performance. You cannot help but feel broken for her).
She meets Jeff Galooley at age fifteen and begins a whirlwind remance that eventually becomes abusive. But Jeff is absolutely certain that he needs to be with her, no matter how often she walks out.
Nancy Kerrigan plays only a small role, as the film is mainly focused on Harding’s life and the controversy on her end.
The film is based heavily on interviews with Harding, Jeff, there body guard Shawn and LaVona (Tonya’s mother). The film has the framing device of on camera interviews with the primary players. This allows for a unique narration. We see Jeff hitting Tonya (the portrayal of the domestic violence is suitably unnerving) and Jeff interjects his denial of the events. Tonya pauses the film to quickly state that Kerrigan was no angel.
The performances here are top notch. Both Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan have a good chemistry that convinces the audience both of their initial connection and the dissolution of the relationship. And Allison Janney as LaVona is inspired. You cannot help but despise her.
The makeup and costuming here is impressive. Janney is almost unrecognizable (only her voice made me recognize her). For much of the movie, both Robbie and Stan look positively average. Considering these are two very attractive people, the makeup people deserve kudos.
Now to the part of the film that might be troubling for many. Some take issue with the notion of “reforming a monster”. Tonya was part of a despicable crime. And the notion of the film rehabilitating her image did not sit well with people.
And, in a way, this is not entirely inaccurate. If the film is truthful? Harding was not in on the crime. She was only loosely associated. Mainly, she appears to maybe have only found out about her husband and bodyguards involvement after the fact. The film also portrays Jeff as having tried to put a stop to the plan. He had hoped to send letters with threats to Kerrigan…psychological warfare. In the film, when he finds out what Shawn had done, he is enraged that they went so far.
Does it rehabilitate Harding’s image? Does it make her seem a victim of cruel circumstances that shaped her into a tough person who got a raw deal? Yeah, I guess it does. But if the information in the film is accurate at all? Maybe she deserves it.