I, Tonya | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews

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I, Tonya


I, Tonya

As we continue to work our way through the Oscar nominated films, this time it's I, Tonya. Based on actual events we see the story unfold of how Tonya Harding was implicated in the assault on her main competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, in the lead up to the 1994 Winter Olympics. As Tonya says in the film, "I mean it's what you came along for, folks. The f***ing incident!" But this film isn't so much about the incident as the life of Tonya Harding. Abused by her mother and husband, rejected as not graceful enough by the skating fraternity, she had the most difficult time of perhaps any sportsperson as her raw talent took her to the very top of women's figure skating. Despite being the first woman to perform a triple axel in competition, her marks often fell short of what her technical ability would seem to warrant.

I found this a very sad story, although the film portrays it in a humorous way. There are frequent interview scenes sprinkled throughout the story, wherein the main players in the incident recall their involvement, or not as the case may be, or perhaps as they chose to remember it. Tonya's mother, LaVona, played with an Oscar-winning performance by Allison Janney, is an uncompromising woman who believes that her daughter succeeded because she was toughened-up by her upbringing. That Tonya was tough is without doubt, but it was a toughness tinged with a large amount of rebellion that didn't go down very well with the stiff judges on the voting panels. Skating in home-made costumes with wild hair, she certainly didn't fit the normal sartorial elegance expected from figure skaters.

She began skating at the age of three, and is shown being elbowed into a skating class by her mother, despite the coach, Diane Rawlinson, being very clear that at three, Toya was too young for the class. Rawlinson does, however, go on to become a very important influence on Tonya's career, despite occasionally having to endure some pretty hostile behaviour from her student.

The film explores in detail Tonya's troubled relationship with her husband, a relationship that will eventually hit rock bottom as he is directly implicated in the assault on Kerrigan. Her mother is always in the background, never really offering any emotional support, except right at the end, and even then her motive is duplicitous. I came away with the feeling that Tonya was let down at every stage of her life, battling to excel in what she did well, her skating, while being subject to the most horrendous home life.

And in the end, after the incident, it was again Tonya who suffered the most. While the actual perpetrators resumed their lives after quite short jail sentences, Tonya was disqualified and effectively black-listed from any future involvement in professional skating. For her a punishment far worse than any time in jail.

Allison Jenny's award-winning performance was, for me, equally matched by that of Margot Robbie as Tonya. The skating scenes are remarkable. You will believe that it's Robbie doing all the clever stuff, thanks to some extremely advanced face-fitting CGI enhancements, which either merge previously captured images of Robbie to the bodies of professional skaters, or literally create her face where the action rendered a simple merge impracticable. That said, I think Robbie must have acquired a reasonable skating proficiency to make this film.