Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) had it rough as a child. Her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) was abusive. LaVona was so bad that her father left, leaving Tonya behind. The only thing Tonya had going for her was that she could skate. LaVona forced Tonya under the guidance of skating coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson). LaVona went so far as to pull Tonya out of school so she could focus on skating.
Tonya meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) at practice. Tonya is immediately drawn to him. Even though he is physically violent towards her, she stays with him. Blaming herself for the abuse, feeling she deserves it, and using it as a way to escape her mother, Tonya moves in with Jeff and eventually marries him. After a disappointing fourth place finish at the 1992 Winter Olympics and feeling she has been unfairly judged because she is too white trash to compete with the other skaters, Tonya takes a break from skating.
With the 1994 Winter Olympics approaching, Tonya begins training again. Tonya receives a death threat during training. Jeff and his friend Shawn Eckhart (Paul Walter Hauser) decide they should take advantage of the situation to get inside rival Nancy Kerrigan’s (Caitlin Carver) head. Jeff thinks if they send an anonymous death threat to Nancy, it will mess with her head, giving Tonya an edge over her. Shawn, however, has other plans.
I, Tonya is based on the true story of the rivalry between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan and the incident at the 1994 Olympics. Rather than focusing entirely on the assault, the film tells the story of Tonya’s upbringing and the events that lead to her expulsion from the skating world.
The casting for the film is perfect. Not only are the actors talented, they look almost identical to their real life counterparts. Margot Robbie is thickened up a bit to play the literally beat-down Tonya Harding. She sells the part of the desperate, wrong side of the tracks skater. Mckenna Grace, who plays young Tonya, does equally well. Mckenna’s performance is more emotional, as she watches her father drive away, leaving her with her abusive mother. Allison Janney is phenomenal as LaVona Golden. She is cold and uncaring, with a singular focus. She will get what she wants and doesn’t care who she has to hurt to get there, even if it is her own daughter.
This film hits the right notes for me, and probably most of my generation. I remember watching Tonya skate. I remember her rivalry with Nancy Kerrigan. I remember watching after Kerrigan was attacked. In my mind, and the minds of most at the time, Tonya was easily the bad guy. She was trashy. She was brash. She was obviously involved in the attack. After seeing I, Tonya, the lines have muddied a bit. I feel bad for Tonya. She didn’t want to be who she became. She was a victim of her circumstances. I do think she had to know some of what Jeff Gillooly was involved in, but I do have some sympathy for her now.
I, Tonya uses parts of more recent interviews with Tonya and her family recreated by the actors. It gives credibility to the film, especially when parts of the actual interviews play over the closing credits. It is a trip down memory lane to one of the most memorable events in Olympic history. Catch it in the theater while you can to get another side of the story.