While I, Tonya may be about the tragic and tumultuous life of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, the audience doesn’t get away unscathed in this dark docu-comedy about our need for a story, and the origins of the 24/7 news cycle.
Set around Harding’s infamous connection to an attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, I Tonya is a gritty depiction of Harding’s self-professed redneck upbringing, and how ill-fitted she was to the glossy traditional world of figure skating.
Questioning everything from social class, to the representation of truth and misogyny, few ‘taboo’ topics are ignored as Tonya weathers domestic abuse alongside her rise to fame and becomes a casualty of America’s need for scandal. With dead-pan ruthlessness, Harding says, “America, you know, they want someone to love, and they want someone to hate, and they want it easy.”
It’s in these candid moments (pulled from original interviews the film describes as “irony-free, totally contradictory” accounts of events) that the audience is confronted with the part they play in Tonya’s narrative. At a time where American media were losing traction with the O.J. Simpson case and the death of child beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey, Tonya proved to be perfect fodder for TV networks in need of salacious news to fill their airtime. I, Tonya suggests it was this insatiable desire for a story that framed Harding as a villain and misrepresented her (and her husband) to the public.
“Watching I, Tonya you’re reminded of the unfortunate way one moment can define a person’s life and career, and how tragically, it’s not always their fault.”
Beyond the morality of news, I, Tonya also digs deep into Harding’s need for love, and how a want for validation causes her to be mistreated and abused. Originating with Tonya’s hardened chain-smoking mother LaVona (Allison Janney) who believes her daughter will only succeed on the rink if she’s angry, Tonya’s psychological angst is sparked, and fuelled by a lack of self-belief and a sense of never being good enough. To then get married and be abused by her husband Jeff Gillooly, becoming number 1 was Harding’s first taste of real admiration not just as a skater, but as an actual, valuable human being.
Watching I, Tonya you’re reminded of the unfortunate way one moment can define a person’s life and career, and how tragically, it’s not always their fault. The film may be nominated for a number of Golden Globes and Academy Awards in the ‘Musical/Comedy’ category but just know, its laughs are interspersed with great gasps at the what’s unfolding before you, providing a needed escape from the shock of it all and bonding you to Harding as the victim.
Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by
I, Tonya is in cinemas now, rated MA 15+.