She was loved for a minute. Then, she was hated. Now, she’s just a punchline.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya (2017) is available to stream on Hulu.
The biographical black comedy was nominated for three Academy Awards, and Allison Janney won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as LaVona Golden, the abusive stage mother of infamous Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Best Actress nominee Margot Robbie).
The film details Harding’s life and career, centering around her connection to the 1994 attack on rival athlete Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).
It is framed as a mockumentary, with contradictory interviews from Harding and her abusive ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), casting them both as unreliable narrators. Footage plays over the end credits of the historical interviews these are transcripted from.
Such ambiguity opens up Harding’s tale to popular interpretation arguably for the first time since her self-proclaimed “bodyguard,” Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser), hired Shane Stant (Ricky Russert) to bludgeon Kerrigan’s kneecap with a police baton.
As a result, this narrative condemns the court of public opinion that was already looking for a reason to convict Harding, the champion representing the United States at the international games with a “white trash” reputation.
Rightfully, Tatiana S. Riegel was nominated alongside Robbie and Janney for her editing. Her work is reminiscent of Thelma Schoonmaker’s Oscar-nominated cut of Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas (1990).
The energetically stylized composition is replete with fourth-wall breaks, hysterically juxtaposed cuts, and computer-imaged tracking-shot montages dollying through time with the same flow as one of Harding’s skating routines.
When paired with music supervisor Susan Jacobs’s classic rock soundtrack, the electricity between sight and sound sparks in us the forgotten inspiration audiences felt watching Harding skate, back when she was known for her talent and not for Nancy Kerrigan.
As darkly humorous as the picture’s voice is, it is sensitive with its themes of poverty and domestic abuse.
Harding is a tragic, sympathetic figure whose onscreen persona subscribes to the age-old psyche of the unloved child who grows up to marry an equally brutal spouse because it’s all she’s ever known about love, and so seeks the adoration and devotion of strangers across the globe.
The cast of characters deny accusations against themselves while lobbing new ones at each other, and the conflicting voiceover narrations and exaggerated editing make it clear what we see is not an objective story, but the subjective telling of it.
All that being said, the movie begs the question: is Harding so desperately addicted to her own fame that she’ll mastermind a violent criminal conspiracy to protect it?
As with the rumors and biases surrounding the media coverage of the Kerrigan incident, it is a mystery everyone solves differently.
But knowing what contemporary viewers perceive of its titular antihero, I, Tonya introduces us first not to the woman who was loved, but to the woman who’s “just a punchline,” before she tells us her side of the moment she became “hated.”
And by the end, you may find yourself “loving” her more than you thought possible.