I, Tonya is a usually skillfully done and well acted telling of the story of Tonya Harding, the Olympic skater forever infamous for her involvement in a conspiracy to take out one of her competitors, Nancy Kerrigan.
For those of you not old enough to remember, this story enraptured the country, and probably the world, as it unfolded. Here was a real-life conspiracy with high stakes unfolding in news broadcasts and tabloids every night, and it was hard not to be drawn into this true crime tale even if you had no interest in skating or the Olympics, or if, in my case, you had never heard of Tonya Harding or Nancy Kerrigan prior to a hired goon attempting to kneecap Nancy and get her to hauntingly scream “Why?” in pain on camera for all to see.
The film plays the story as a dark comedy with some harrowing moments of drama–there’s no question Harding had a tough upbringing. She is depicted (by Margot Robbie) as someone desperate for love and acclaim, with two massive and related flaws–a rebellious streak which causes her to reject the council of those wiser and more knowledgeable than her, and an inability to take responsibility. “It’s not my fault,” or “It wasn’t my fault” is her frequent refrain.
While making clear that its narrators are unreliable, I, Tonya seems to come down on Harding’s side regarding the facts of the matter. She took a plea deal for hindering the prosecution of the other parties involved (something the movie confusingly doesn’t make clear, leaving viewers wondering what exactly her sentence was for), and the film has it that that’s probably all she’s guilty of. And maybe it is.
I, Tonya is so skillfully constructed for the most part that its few slip-ups stand out. The aforementioned courtroom confusion, a bizarre scene where the camera’s obsessive focus on a Ronald Reagan poster (who wasn’t even in office at the time) takes the viewer completely out of the movie, and a dumb throwaway line where we’re supposed to think that Olympic skater Tonya thinks of having a living room as living in the lap of luxury. These minor things will probably stop the film from getting an Oscar nomination for best editing in a few weeks.
But, all in all, a really good film. Younger viewers may assume that the filmmakers have amped up the absurdity of the whole situation, and of course they have. But only by a little–it really was incredibly absurd. I, Tonya captures that absurdity beautifully.