By Tim Connelly (Wilmington, NC)

 

I, Tonya is a fascinating account of Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly and the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan. It isn’t always a pretty story and neither Tonya nor Jeff come out unscathed. But after a couple of hours of seeing their own words acted out by Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan – I feel like I understand both of them better. 

Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers managed to do the near impossible- turn two ugly punchlines back into real people. There’s not much point into going into too much detail on the story- we’re all pretty familiar with it and came into the theater wondering how the film would attempt to bridge the gap between a universally despised person and the need to make Tonya a sympathetic character. 

The answer was in making (or showing) her mother to be a monster and to also show that right up until the Kerrigan attack – Tonya’s biggest crime was in simply not fitting into the figure skating world very well. She married poorly and in the process, became enveloped in a co-dependent relationship with her husband, who in time became her ex-husband. 

The movie depicts Gillooly as saying that his confession wasn’t in planning the attack on Kerrigan but rather in planning to send out a death threat to her. His justification was that Tonya had received one and it obviously upset her concentration and focus – why not do the same thing to even the score and mess with Kerrigan’s concentration. Although this may or may not be true in being the full extent of their involvement- it is, at least possible. And although this is still completely unacceptable (and it does seem doubtful that he would pay $1000 for someone just to mail a letter), it seems as likely as what we’ve always thought. 

Robbie is great and should definitely receive an Oscar nomination. She makes Harding more likable than she actually was but likability is overrated. You can be likable and still be a scoundrel. You can be unlikable and be a much better person than you’re given credit for. 

I thought Sebastian Stan was outstanding as well. His later in life depiction of Gillooly gave him back his soul after he lost it during his beatings of Tonya. And Allison Janney will be adding a Best Supporting Actress Oscar to her Golden Globe for her amazing depiction of the evil mom. 

It isn’t easy to make a great film when everybody knows how every event is going to flow. My hat is off to everybody associated with this film for getting every detail so right. The skating, the sense of not being good enough that just pours out of Robbie’s role as Harding, along with a wonderful score- it adds up a terrific movie that entertains without being predictable.

Everybody is a victim somewhere along the line. Kerrigan was victimized at a most inopportune time- right before the Olympic trials- and in such a horrific manner as to cause all of us to feel a deep sense of hurt and anger for what she was put through. It can’t be overstated how much trust Kerrigan lost after having such a terrible thing occur. But as the movie points out- life doesn’t happen in isolation and all the beatings and lack of support that led her to the day of the “incident” – these things influenced her life every bit as much. Harding’s victimization was mostly done behind closed doors and her hard, unsympathetic personality worked against her in a big way. She will not only get a big paycheck for this movie but many of us won’t think of her in quite the same ultra-negative way.

Rating: 5/5

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