Movies of the Moment: I Tonya
Rounding out films that are still out in theatres, I’d be extremely remiss not to comment on I, Tonya. For those of you living under a boulder (I kid), I, Tonya recounts the story of Tonya Harding, at one time one of the best figure skaters in the world ( to note: the first American woman to land the notoriously difficult triple axel jump), who weathered unimaginable scandal on account of the 1994 attack on her teammate Nancy Kerrigan. I remember this story so vividly from my childhood- growing up in the midwest, the Winter Olympics were a huge event for us and my family and I watched the figure skating championships near religiously. When this story line unfolded we, like the rest of America, were enraptured in it. And yet, there were so many details of the story that I was too young to absorb, or too naive to realize that I had internalized as fact. In this respect, I, Tonya serves as a redemption tale for someone who became, during my childhood, a caricature of the evil villain writ large.
And yet, I, Tonya isn’t a tale of redemption at all. It is, at its core, a really excruciating account of a life of poverty of violence- first of the parental variety, then the marital variety- and finally of the societal variety. And I found the consistent and raw abuse almost too much to handle. There was no tempering of her suffering when she grew up, moved out of her home, or left her husband. Rather, she is consistently and brutally punished every step of the way despite her boundless work ethic and pursuit of something better. Given that, I found it really hard to reconcile this movie as a comedy (despite it’s comedic elements- brought to the fore by an incredible cast of characters as they adopt their respective characters with undeniable gusto). Pictured below, Allison Janney in the role she was born to play, as Tony Hardings abusive mother.
Despite finding the violence near unbearable, the movie is extremely well done – and my husband and friends absolutely loved it. It has taken distance from some of the more difficult scenes for me to embrace just how genius this movie is but all the same, I’ve come around. And like Lady Bird below, it is another example of a film that plays exquisitely to the 90’s/2000s nostalgia that is swallowing pop culture whole at the moment (perhaps a testament to the fact that we would all rather escape to the scandals of our childhoods then live the scandals of the moment, which feel too heavy to bear). Margot Robbie as Tonya, Allison Janney as LaVona Harding, Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly, and Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn are all absolutely exceptional in their respective roles.
It’s worth noting that watching this movie prompted me to also watch the 2 hour ABC special: Truth and Lies, the Tonya Harding Story last week and it was insane to learn how accurate the events of the movie are. I recommend watching the special as well if you can’t get enough of early 90’s figure skaters, because honestly, who can? Not I.
I Tonya- Violent, insane, well-executed, funny, and tragic. A little like the woman herself.