The dark, twisted, and hilarious look at the rise and fall of US
Olympic figure-skater Tonya Harding had buyers scrambling to nab
it at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and now
it’s time for general audiences to get their chance.
Margot Robbie plays the disgraced skater in a performance that is
the best of her career to this point.
Though Harding’s claim to fame should be as the first American
woman to land a triple axel in competition, what she’s really
known for is being the center of one of the biggest scandals in
US sports history when her rival, US figure-skater Nancy
Kerrigan, was attacked leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Later on, it was discovered that Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff
Gillooly, hired someone to assault Kerrigan.
But “I, Tonya,” directed by Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real
Girl,” “The Finest Hours”), doesn’t only focus on the scandal
that became a pop-culture obsession in the mid-1990s. To tell the
story right, you have to delve deeper into Harding’s life and
that’s just what Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers did.
Pushed to be a figure-skater by her mother (played by Allison
Janney) at 3, Harding knew two things growing up, skating on the
ice and being abused.
There’s a lot to laugh about and get nostalgic over in “I,
Tonya,” but at its core it’s a story about a woman who has been
mentally and physically abused by everyone who has ever been in
By 15, Harding moves from the slaps and shoves of her mother to
go live with Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and things don’t get
better. He beats her constantly, which doesn’t stop Harding from
marrying the guy.
Through all of this, Harding rises through the ranks of US
figure-skating, and because of her ability to land the triple
axel, becomes an elite skater. Which is even more remarkable in a
sport like figure skating — where privilege and a wholesome image
is a necessity — Harding did it all dirt poor and never making
nice with anyone.
Robbie (who is also a producer on the movie) captures the rough
Harding persona and delivers a performance which is at times
heart-achingly real and at others masterfully comedic. From her
hair to her loud outfits, Robbie is everything that made you love
Harding if you lived through the time when she was one of the
most recognizable people on the planet.
And then there’s the supporting cast that only makes Robbie and
the movie better. Stan as the mustached Gillooly is the perfect
villain. And Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Gillooly’s friend and
Harding’s “bodyguard” Shawn Eckhardt, is a hilarious scene
stealer. But it’s Janney as Harding’s unforgiving mother that’s
the most remarkable. She plays her ruthless and never gives the
character the slightest hint of compassion towards Harding.
The movie has top notch make-up and costume design as it goes
through the decades of Harding’s life and jumps forward to
present day with the characters giving interviews looking back on
the events. This style gives the movie one of its most memorable
moments, when present day Harding looks into the camera and
describes the pain she feels being the punching bag of the media
and public. They being her latest abuser. And how this movie, and
we the audience enjoying her messed up life, are now her current
If there’s one knock on the movie, the poor CGI for the skating
scenes makes it obvious Robbie isn’t doing most of the skating.
But, no one was expecting her to learn the triple axel for the
Neon ended up winning the “I, Tonya” sweepstakes out of Toronto,
and its betting on the movie to not just be a box office hit but
an award season contender.
I certainly hope that happens because I think it’s a very unique
This review has been edited since its original posting during
the Toronto International Film Festival.