Explosive, on and off the ice

Margot Robbie, right, plays a tough-as-nails athlete who wants to skate more than anything. Press photo.

I, Tonya recounts the true story of competitive ice skater Tonya Harding

Directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers, I, Tonya is a dark and dramatic comedy recounting of competitive ice skater Tonya Harding’s career. Starring Margot Robbie as Harding, the film portrays the foul-mouthed, powerful athlete’s rise to fame and subsequent fall from grace.

Thick-skinned, no-nonsense Harding refuses to adjust her image in order to please the uptight judges. She skates powerfully to upbeat disco songs while wearing low-quality, handmade costumes. Though her abilities are far superior to the competition, her status as an outlier in the skating community results in docked marks for presentation.

When she becomes the first American woman to land a triple-axle during a competition, her name is secured in the history of competitive figure skating. Yet, Harding’s success is jeopardized when her ex-husband and deranged friend hatch a plan to secure a spot for her on the 1994 Olympic team, resulting in an FBI investigation.

The film is shot documentary-style, including ‘interviews’ recounting past events from each character’s perspective. The dry comedic slap comes when the ‘true’ portrayal of events is shown, often contrasting with the story that is shown in the movie.

The film emphasizes Harding’s relationship with her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney) and her boyfriend-turned-husband-turned-ex-husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan). Both relationships were chaotic and violent, with both Jeff and LaVona claiming to care for Harding despite their actions showing otherwise.

Serious issues such as domestic and parental abuse, class struggle and the negative effects of fame are central to the film’s narrative. It presents Harding as a victim of circumstance, as well as a deeply flawed person who refuses to hold herself accountable for her mistakes. As a whole, this film is a worthwhile addition to the sports drama genre.

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