It’s true. Our society is hardly forgiving towards those who makes mistakes. And quick to condemn at that.
Tonya Harding was an Olympic figure skater, who in a 1991 competition, did a triple axel on the ice. Not was she the first American to ever do so, even after a quarter of a century, only 8 women in the world have ever managed this athletic feat.
Sadly, this was eclipsed by a scandal that rocked headlines. Her competitor Nancy Kerrigan was bludgeoned at her knee, and Harding was implicated in its involvement. This quickly ended her career and she was banned for life by the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
Steven Rogers who doubles as producer and writer, got a chance to speak with Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly in separate interviews, and because they were so contrary in nature, found hit script material in his hands.
Margot Robbie comes on board as the title character, while Sebastian Stan plays her well-meaning but incompetent husband Jeff. Allison Janney comes in as the abusive mother LaVona Golden, and the bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt is played to perfection by Paul Walter Hauser. This casting is dead on, both because it doesn’t adhere blindly to pure physical similarities, but also because the actors put in incredibly believable performances.
Robbie pulls away from her nymphic imaging, rendering a double-edged Tonya that is easy to love and hate. Stan layers his character with enjoyable nuance, seeping a darkly obsessive energy from his deceptively gentle eyes.
The tour-de-force Janney is rooted in her abusive persona, never letting a moment up with her egoistic ways. She even matter-of-factly jumps in during a cut to complain about her airtime. But my favourite has to be Eckhardt’s Shawn. Although at times a little bit too much of a cliche (cue the Star Trek reference and gross eating habits), there are incredible moments where with unfocused eyes and shallow breathing, he is totally convincing as the one who instigated and eventually unravelled this entire debacle.
And maybe the believability also comes from the fact that there are real-life links. Janny herself used to Figure Skate before an injury stopped her dreams, while screenwriter Rogers worked with Nancy Kerrigan at an agency he was working for, 3 months before the incident happened!
This authenticity has paid off handsomely at the industry level. I, Tonya has been nominated between 2-5 categories at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild and the Academy.
You usually can’t pair tragedy and comedy, but the director Craig Gillespie has worked his edgy perceptions into the movie. With hard cuts, unrestrained acting and dizzying camera work, I, Tonya is as gutsy as the heroine/villain it portrays. Cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis has injected a pendulous style that spins freely around the happenings, enhanced by a skating camera operator Dana Morris.
The shots pivot around grounded interview scenes with the characters, and the entire film dances through accompanied by the sometimes-apt, sometimes-ironic classics like Barracuda, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, and Devil Woman.
Meant to humanize and give the actual Tonya Harding a fair break, this has, of course, resurfaced old hurt from the real-life counterparts. As the audience, we are given a free pass to do what we do best – judge – but hopefully, a little more kindly.
A hard-hitting and explosive real-life tragedy, laced with dark and inappropriate humour, insane camerawork and riveting performances.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com