Review: Craig Gillespie’s “I, Tonya” is on anything but thin ice


The official poster for “I, Tonya” featuring actress Margot Robbie. Robbie portrays figure skater Tonya Harding and her life in the spotlight. Image source: I, Tonya .

Based on the real drama that is Tonya Harding’s life, the Academy Award nominated “I, Tonya” is a compelling film that tells the story of the now-retired figure skater and her fall from grace after the 1994 attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, which Harding’s ex-husband orchestrated. 

Directed by Craig Gillespie, “I, Tonya” stars Margot Robbie as Harding, Allison Janney as LaVona Golden (Harding’s mother) and Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly (Harding’s ex-husband). 

The movie begins in the 1970’s in Portland, Oregon, when Harding is four years old. We are soon introduced to Harding’s negligent mother whose abuse is a disturbing driving force behind Tonya’s ability to excel at skating. 

The beginning takes us through Harding’s rough childhood as she progresses as a skater. She endures hardships like her father abandoning her and continuing to deal with her cruel mother ,who mistreats Harding in order to motivate her to skate better. 

Fast forward a few years, and Harding quickly becomes one of the best figure skaters in the world by being the first female skater to land two consecutive triple axel jumps in a competition.

Throughout the film, we also witness Tonya struggle with her violent relationship with her husband while also working at a hardware store in order to support herself and maintain her reputation as one of the top skaters in the world. 

Director Craig Gillespie takes a unique, almost documentary-like approach, as the movie is narrated by a series of interviews that depict different sides of the incident. Most of the clips consist of Harding, Golden, Gillooly and Tonya’s former skating coach.

Although most of the footage focuses on these four characters, the most humorous interviews come from Sean Eckhardtone of the men involved with the poorly executed attack, who claims he is an espionage expert despite never having worked for the government or holding an actual job. 

The characters’ interviews control the tone and speed of the story and allow the viewers to be fully immersed in the film. The fact that every single interview contradicts another one gives multiple perspectives to the already complex story and also adds some much-needed comedy to an otherwise dark event. 

Robbie and Janney also offer outstanding performances in “I, Tonya,” and both women are nominated for Academy Awards this year. Janney is nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, while Robbie is up for Best Actress. Janney expertly portrays the chain-smoking, sadistic mother, who adds much unexpected comedy to the film. Robbie, who also co-produced the film, is stellar in her ability to play a role that depicts a woman’s entire life story. Robbie also gives the audience a genuine sense of Harding’s heartache after her entire life was destroyed because of the actions of others. 

Furthermore, the movie seamlessly explores issues that still plague our society, particularly the importance of socioeconomic status. In the movie, Harding unapologetically refers to herself a “redneck” but is constantly told by the judges that she will never become successful because of her poor upbringing and refusal to conform to the feminine standards of figure skating.

The movie also touches on America’s obsession with scandal and how quick the public is to vilify someone when they only know one side of the story. Compared to the polite and picture-perfect Nancy Kerrigan, who was raised by a “wholesome American family” as the movie notes, Harding was an easy person for Americans to despise.

“America — they want someone to love, but they want someone to hate,” Harding says in the movie. This is ultimately the crux of what makes the story so interesting and compelling; the truth getting lost in the flux of sensationalist news. While the movie doesn’t portray Tonya as being completely innocent, it is clearly sympathetic toward its protagonist.

“I, Tonya” presents the well-known sports story in a new way with an exceptional cast. Currently, it is playing at several theaters in Los Angeles, including Pacific Theaters at The Grove and The ArcLight in Santa Monica. “I, Tonya” is rated R for pervasive language, violence and some sexual content/nudity.

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“I, Tonya” is the creatively told story of Tonya Harding’s troubled pathway to success and her devastating downfall.