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Thursday, February 22, 2018


(Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding)

This is an uneven, luridly entertaining film about the life and career of a notorious ice-skater. (Review by Patrick Compton - 8/10)

Some pretty bad things happen in I, Tonya, Craig Gillespie’s revisionary film about the disgraced American ice-skater, Tonya Harding, but there are plenty of laughs as well which sometimes makes for an awkward mix.

The basic story, which climaxes in 1994, is well enough known. Harding, a hugely talented ice-skater, was found to be mixed up in a plot in which her great rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was deliberately “knee-capped” by an assailant shortly before the American championships and the Olympic Winter Games.

Scripted by Steven Rogers, director Gillespie has delivered a wild, knowing black comedy in which we are encouraged to laugh at the goings-on involving people who resemble nothing so much as the inmates of a Jerry Springer Show.

At the time, Harding (superbly played by Margot Robbie) was largely reviled as an example of American trash on ice who rarely received fair marks from judges who felt that she didn’t conform to the kind of Apple Pie middle-class girl that they felt best represented their country. While Kerrigan danced to Mozart and wore beautifully tailored costumes, Harding jived to ZZ Top and wore her mother’s cheap, glitzy outfits. Harding, it was generally considered, clearly came from the wrong side of the tracks and was always battling the odds.

Gillespie has decided to level the cultural and emotional playing fields by portraying Harding’s life from her own perspective. What emerges is that she was abused as a child and a teenager by her monstrous mother, LaVona Golden, played by Allison Janney, who is favoured to pick up an Oscar as best supporting actress for her brilliant performance.

LaVona passes on the baton of domestic abuse to Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who continues to beat his wife up unmercifully. Harding, it has to be said, is no natural victim, responding in kind whenever she can. How she managed to practice and climb the ice-skating ladder while all this was going on is a mystery that the movie doesn’t try to unlock.

The structure of the film is unusual. The director uses mockumentary interviews with some of the characters (conducted after the event) to punctuate the action, while also employing some direct-to-camera commentary on the action (breaking the “fourth wall”) from Harding at various key moments.

The movie has caused plenty of controversy in the United States, with some claiming that Harding was less innocent about the attack on Kerrigan than she claimed, while some of Kerrigan’s supporters say that she was almost completely ignored in the drama, a claim that is largely true.

For most audiences, however, the truth of the affair will be of less interest than its entertainment value, and here the movie certainly delivers. Janney is magnificent as the mother from hell (watch her mockumentary scenes with the parrot on her head) while Robbie is stunning as the hard-boiled Harding who manages, at times, to engage our sympathy. There are also some sub-Fargo scenes to savour, particularly involving the idiot friend of Harding’s husband, played to memorably awful effect by Paul Walter Hauser.

I, Tonya is playing at Gateway Mall. – Patrick Compton