A few weeks ago, I reviewed Bud Greenspan’s 1994 Olympics documentary, noting that this was one of “my” Olympics, so to speak–one of the games that took place when I really paying attention to everything surrounding them instead of just watching them when they came on. The marquee event, at least as far as network coverage goes, is always figure skating, particularly the women’s competition. And anyone who remembers the 1994 Lillehammer games remembers the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal, specifically the way that someone supposedly hired by Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, clubbed her in the knee in an effort to cripple her and prevent her from competing. It was far from the perfect crime–the perpetrators left a trail of breadcrumbs that might have well been entire loaves of bread, Gillooly’s friend Shawn Eckhart bragged about it to half the world, and Harding was quickly at the controversy’s center.
While Kerrigan finished second to Oksana Baiul, Harding fate was that of complete disgrace. She did not medal at the Olympics after having to restart her long program because of a faulty shoelace. In fact, the footage of her skating over to the judges’ table with her snapped shoelace was the source of a lot of schadenfreude for viewers even though when you think about it she had a legitimate reason to do that because she didn’t want to break her ankle on a jump. Harding was then barred for life from competitive figure skating.
ANYWAY, the movie.
I, Tonya is a fictionalized biography of the figure skater, who is portrayed by Margot Robbie (who was nominated for an Oscar), Gilloly is played by Sebastian Stan, and Allison Janney won an Oscar for playing Tonya’s mother LaVona Golden. The film follows her life from the moment she first stepped on the ice at the age of four up until the aftermath of the 1994 Olympics in a mockumentary format, with “re-creations” of various events in Harding’s life playing out as plot for the movie while those same characters are interviewed in the “present day” reflecting and commentating on those events. The result is fun as hell, especially when you realize that it’s purposely exaggerated for its comedy and satire, as it pokes fun at the tropes of biopics and biographical documentaries.
When this movie came out, I watched a 20/20 special about Harding, which included a lengthy interview with her, and when it popped up on my streaming services (Hulu, in this case), I dropped it onto a watchlist, where it … sat. And I picked it up because I needed something to watch from my queue that wasn’t a horror movie or a documentary. The farcical, satirical nature of I, Tonya makes it amazing. Harding is not a hero–more like an anti-hero (and truly an anti-hero, not simply a superhero that uses guns to kill people), and her mother and Gilloly are the villains of the piece. Eckhart and his stooges are hilarious. And while it’s a great sendup of the “white trash” culture that cable reality has turned into a cash cow for a couple of decades, it’s respectful to its subject matter because it’s critical of American culture and its expectations for our female athletes. I understand the adoration that the film got, especially considering the performances are outstanding.
Watch or Skip?