America’s renegade versus America’s sweetheart. Even the most casual observer of figure skating knew the names Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan back in the ’90s. Families were glued to their TV screens as the scandal of Kerrigan’s assault exploded just before the Olympics. Did her husband act alone? How much did Harding really know?
Those are questions we’ve never stopped wondering, and don’t expect to get any answers from I, Tonya. However, you can look forward to much more, as the film scrutinizes a story as its told through the lens of Harding’s family and friends, creating a more compelling and complex narrative that feels as current as ever.
The reasons I, Tonya has ended up being so timely are nearly endless. The world is finally having a conversation about assault and abuse, and this film showcases a prolific figure as a product of the violence that permeated her upbringing. When we have conversations about Harding, Kerrigan, and the incident, Harding’s hardened, “rough around the edges” demeanor does often come up, but we don’t have nearly enough conversations about how this woman was raised to view violence.
A slap in the face, a punch in the stomach, and a black eye were just part of a regular day for her. Just dab on some extra concealer before a performance and move along. I, Tonya never attempts to answer the question of whether of not Harding has been entirely truthful about her involvement in Kerrigan’s assault, but rather forces us to take a step back and look at the brush strokes that have been used to paint the portrait of Harding as a human being.
If you followed the story when it first broke, chances are that you know about the abuse Harding suffered from both her mother and her ex-husband. But seeing it on the screen is a different story. The smack of her mother’s hand against Harding’s cheek is visceral and surreal, and when she glances over to call it out to the camera, we’re jarred out of the experience just enough to take a pause that hammers home how absolutely horrendous her life is outside of skating. The violence is both visually and verbally stated so that it’s pummeled into our senses.
The poignant power behind these moments is punctuated by the performances of Margot Robbie and Allison Janney as Tonya Harding and LaVona Golden. Both women are nominated for Oscars this year for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. Janney has already snagged several wins so far this season, including the Golden Globe and the SAG.
Although Robbie isn’t favored to win (the competition for 2018 is stacked), her performance is nothing to scoff at. Robbie transforms into the hard-nosed figure skater with everything she has. From the wide-toothed smile to the hand stitched costumes, she nails every aspect of the notorious ’90s figure in I, Tonya. At one point Robbie’s Harding reflects on the scandal and how her rise and fall has been devoured by the media. She notes that American wants someone to love, but what they really want is someone to hate. She goes on to claim that there’s no such thing as truth, only what each person decides is their truth.
In a world of fake news and fact checking, these observations couldn’t possibly hit home more they do right now. Who knew the retelling of a ’90s store could carry so much weight in 2018?
Speaking of current events, the 2018 Winter Olympics are officially underway, and Mirai Nagasu has become the first American female figure skater to land a triple axel at the Winter Olympics. Tonya Harding was the first American woman to land the three and a half rotation jump back in 1991 in American competition. This full circle naturally triggers curiosity over what Harding could have become had she not sabotaged her own career, one that was already under constant scrutiny because of her less than squeaky clean image. As observers of the truth, we can only watch and wonder.
Have you seen I, Tonya? What do you think about the revival of this story? Let’s talk movies in the comments!