Austin Film Festival’s “I, Tonya” biopic features Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding
By Liz Lopez
Not everyone is a sports fan, nor follows the Olympics, but more than twenty years ago, there was a scandal in the figure skating world. Two names from the United States that became known worldwide, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, were not only recognized for their talent as skaters, but also for the actions taken during the competitions that landed several people in court. “I, Tonya” was a feature film that screened during the Austin Film Festival (AFF) and is definitely a drama, but the fake documentary style of telling Harding’s story provides many scenes that have the viewer laugh out loud from the absurdity of real life.
The numerous dramatic scenes of violence and abuse are not meant to glorify the actions in this film categorized as a “comedy” by some in the industry, but these scenes highlight what Harding endured in her lifetime. Margot Robbie (“Suicide Squad,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”) stars as Tonya Harding, the figure skater who rose to fame then crashed down despite all her talent. The scenes of abuse are hard to view and Robbie’s spectacular performance is definitely one to watch from the happy moments on the ice, to the tragedy of her abuse.
Robbie, who serves as one of the producers, is nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (I don’t consider this a comedy) and she deserves this nomination. Allison Janney (“The West Wing,” “Mom” TV series) excels in her performance as Tonya’s mother – an unforgettable character as the mother with a horrific parenting style. Nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, Janney earned that nomination, for she portrays a character that is easy to dislike.
Some viewers may believe that “I, Tonya” is a spoof about a person’s real life, but it is not. The screenplay is so well written, keeping the viewer engaged while learning about Harding’s background, her rise and fall, after fall, after fall.
The director and Executive Producer, Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”), working from a script by Steven Rogers, creates the world that Tonya Harding comes from, what she endures to try to rise from it with her passion for skating, and the various characters that surround her, impacting her life in major ways. Tonya’s mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), treats her daughter harshly and the viewer quickly learns how so in early scenes when Tonya goes to a skating class, is pushed onto the ice and the pushing continues from age 3 forward – forever. Janney’s performance is the epitome of an abusive parent physically and mentally. She never has a positive word for Tonya; always scowling and smoking, as well as cussing and constantly beating her down. Tonya’s figure-skating teacher, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), believes in Tonya, but LaVona tears her back down no matter what heights she reaches.
Tonya meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), a guy she believes is nice, but unfortunately she learns too late how violent he really is. Their relationship isn’t always bad, but he is an abuser. Stan portrays Jeff as a not-so-smart fellow who becomes mean, often striking her. The cycle of leaving him, then returning, continues. Tonya stays married to him, as this is all she has ever known from her mother – abuse.
The film does address the attack on Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver, “Dear White People” TV series) and the result from the courts bans her from competitive skating forever – another beat down.
Additional cast members that deserve mention are Jeff’s pal, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) and Bobby Cannavale (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” “Adult Beginners,” “Blue Jasmine”) as Martin Maddox. Both characters are essential to the story and this I won’t reveal in this review. Certainly if readers are curious about them, there are already reviews available for this film, as it was screened at the Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations) and subsequently at the Austin Film Festival last year.
The film is rated R and opens in Austin on January 5th 2018.