With the miracle of streaming most of the recent Academy Award winners, you can see what all the hype was about right from your very own easy chair. For about the same prices as a MacDonald’s treat, you can screen Allison Janney’s transformational performance that landed her a golden statue for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in “I, Tonya.” Don’t miss this one, especially if you’re old enough to remember the media hype surrounding figure-skater Tonya Harding and the event that occurred on Jan. 6, 1994.
This film’s narrative unfolds with a distinctively different flair, juxtaposing interviews and voice-overs in current time against events that occurred in the past. Both entertaining and thought provoking, “I, Tonya” opens up range of possibilities for understanding motives, things gone wrong, and the aftermath of wrecked dreams and ruined ambitions.
As a “biopic,” the film centers on skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), opening up details of her hardscrabble life. Harding’s family, self-described as “red necks,” doesn’t fit the same mold as other families whose children love ice skating. Tonya’s cigarette-smoking mother LaVona (Allison Janney) takes no prisoners, bullying Tonya’s first skating instructor who, at first, refused to take so young a pupil. Tonya was a “soft” four years old.
As the years go by, Tonya’s aggressive mother resorts to all sorts of antics to rouse Tonya’s passions, which Lavona believes will make Tonya a better skater. Hurling insults and four-letter words along with physical blows, their stormy relationship builds to a crescendo. Harding moves in with her long-time boyfriend Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and then marries him.
Theirs turns out to be an even more abusive relationship than that of her and her mother’s. Tonya suffers the blows, occasionally returning them, but it’s his intervention into her career that will lead to her downfall.
Caring nothing about fair play, proper behavior, or even sportsmanship, Harding allows Jeff to set up a plan to send a series of death-threat letters to her biggest skater rival Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carvery).
Like most of what he does, Jeff will bungle the plan and involve his friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), who fancies himself a subversive agent of some kind. Before you know it, sending letters has turned into a plot to bash Nancy Kerrigan in the knee with a hammer.
When justice for Kerrigan comes, the question of whether or not Harding knew about the attack will be central to the judge’s decision. Many different pawns will figure in the blame game, and you can decide.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Rated R for pervasive language, violence and some sexual content/nudity.
Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter.