On Thin Ice - I, TONYA
Tonya Harding's story is one of those everyone feels like they know but would struggle if pressed for details. There are likely a million different narratives in our collective memories. It makes sense then, that I, TONYA comes together in an almost manic fashion, with changes in tone, time and perspective. It was adapted, at least in part, from interviews with the characters involved and thus ducks in and out of crisscrossing, and even conflicting, anecdotes. The end result is as dizzying a triple axel and as sharp of the blades it rests on.
The general outline of the story is one you know: Tonya Harding, skating dynamo competing at the highest of levels, winds up involved in an assault on one of her biggest rivals. The extent to which she was involved depends on who you ask, but the roots of the story run deeper than the headline.
The film delves into the physical and mental abuse she endured at the hands of her mother and later her husband. Her life was a rough one and her rise in the skating world was unconventional because of the jagged edges of her story. The film explores the ways she was ill-fated for skating stardom, the cast of dullards surrounding her, and the way all these things came together to produce "the incident"--a steel rod to the knee of Nancy Kerigan, which became Harding's lasting legacy.
In the film’s most jarring moments, Harding’s tumultuous family life is center stage. All of the abuse she suffered paints a portrait of a woman who struggled to hold it together on some of the biggest stages in the world. The film's handling of "the incident" loses sight of the woman at the center of the story at times, but the idiotic way these events unfold make it just entertaining enough not to notice. The impact is that you wind up viewing the events of her life as almost totally independent of who she was as a person. Her life was a series of forced choices and bad relationships that coalesced to take away the one thing she actually loved--skating.
Often, actors use de-glam roles to garner attention and challenge themselves. And while there are certainly less glamorous roles than ballerinas on ice, it still represents grit for Margot Robbie. The ultra-glamorous star dials it back a notch an dons 80s hair to become Tonya Harding. While I am too young to have a real avatar of Tonya Harding in my head, Robbie is convincing. She does just enough to carry the film from its comedic to more somber notes.
The real highlight, however, is Allison Janney as Tonya Harding's mercurial mother. The most devastatingly "bad" mom since Mo'Nique in Precious, she really makes you seethe with anger. Her barbed jabs and acerbic wit are a character all their own and Janney is up to the task of delivering. While the film doesn't exactly have much in the way of social commentary or heft, what it does have are top notch actors working from a taught script with just enough to say. It is possible you will be put off by the somewhat cavalier handling of domestic violence, but it is more likely you will walk away feeling like you have a deeper understanding of one of the more caricatured figured in sports history.
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