I, Tonya, the biopic black comedy directed by Craig Gillespie from a screenplay by Steven Rogers tells a tale belying anything that could be based on a true story. Flash back to 1994. If you are of a certain age, you figured this was bound to happen at some point in the future, but somehow, you just knew it would happen sooner than later. Well, no. It’s taken some 23 years to bring the tabloid-esque story of disgraced figure skating champion Tonya Harding to the big screen. Perhaps the timing wasn’t right? Perhaps the movie-going public was so saturated by the news accounts of Tonya’s escapades that they didn’t want to go to a theater to see it play out in a semi-fictional account.
For those who might have been living under a rock, Tonya was an unlikely champion in a sport with carefully cultivated ice princesses. Tonya was pure blue collar, with homemade and tacky costumes to complement her hairdo, a curly pony tail and bangs that covered her forehead, a style that was more shabby eighties than nineties.
Harding’s ever-present rival and constant nemesis was Nancy Kerrigan, a prototypical ice queen with a demeanor that suggested Audrey Hepburn and a countenance that resembled a young Katherine Hepburn. Though Kerrigan did not come from a moneyed background, she exuded the aura that seemed as if her’s had been a life of boarding schools and a seven sisters college.
Though Harding was a skating sensation if only for her sheer athleticism — she was the first American woman to perform the difficult triple Axel in both the United States Figuring Skating Championships as well as the World Figure Skating Championships — her lack of grace and presentation kept her scores secondary to the sophisticated, fluid flow that carried Kerrigan over the ice.
In 1994, as the Lillehammer Olympics drew near, a plot was hatched behind the scenes to ensure that Harding had a — pardon the pun — leg up on the competition and that Kerrigan would be rendered incapable of beating Harding once again.
Involved in this ham-handed fiasco were Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, and a man they hired by the name of Shane Stant. Stant was to become the assailant in this bizarre plot at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. As Kerrigan finished a practice session and stepped off the rink, she was struck in the leg by Stant who was wielding a police-grade baton in an attempt to break Kerrigan’s leg. Kerrigan was thus unable to compete. Nonetheless, she was selected to compete in the upcoming Olympic games.
The games are always the subject of viewer attention around the world, but this attack on Kerrigan created a circus atmosphere with a media frenzy following Harding’s and Kerrigan’s every move. Figure skating viewership in this Olympic games engendered some of the highest ratings in sporting history.
I, Tonya stars Australian actress Margot Robbie as Harding, Allison Janney as her mother, with Sebastian Stan as her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly.
RottenTomatoes considers this descent into skating hell as one to watch, this time on the big screen rather than in unending tabloid television stories. Critics give the film a very healthy score of 89.
I, Tonya runs 1 hour 59 minutes and is rated R.
BELOW: I, Tonya trailer.
I, Tonya press conference