I, Tonya

Jan 3, 2018

Tonya Harding is rough, driven, wounded, and watchable.

I, Tonya

Grade: B

Director: Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours)

Screenplay: Steven Rogers (Kate & Leopold)

Cast: Margot Robie (Goodbye Christopher Robin), Sebastian Stan (Logan Lucky)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1hr 59 min

by John DeSando

“I mean, come on! What kind of friggin' person bashes in their friend's knee? Who would do that to a friend?” Tonya Harding (Margot Robie)

Director Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya may change the way you view Tonya Harding. This gritty docudrama chronicles the life of the competitive skater who worked a lifetime to become a member of the Olympic team only to see the dream shattered by her ex, Jeff (Sebastian Stan) in the now infamous assault on superior skater Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).

Although Tonya admits to coming from “white trash,” she dreams of entering a world that mostly coddles to girls from proper families, hardly a term for the Hardings. Their incessant smoking and Eskimo-Pie eating are small reminders of how difficult she would have it in the culturally rarefied world of Olympic competition.

Tonya displays an astounding naiveté as she places her confidence in boyfriend turned abusive husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan). No question she knew he wanted to harass competitor Kerrigan through the mails, but she doesn’t seem to have sanctioned assaulting her. Harding’s hard shell makes it difficult to sympathize with her nevertheless.

The crux of this revealing and ultimately sympathetic chronicle is that Harding, as bluntly competitive and rough as she is, is easily buffeted by her rude mother, La Vona (Allison Janney), whose drill sergeant ways and seeming lack of love set up Tonya for feelings of inadequacy for the Olympics and life.

The action of the film, well known for anyone aware of the turbulent 90’s and Harding, arguably, as she says, secondly famous only to Bill Clinton, doesn’t play as well as other docs that keep the audience on edge but eager for more.  Harding is deeply in need of real love, a circumstance that gives the film less suspense than that of a more stable hero. I might even be challenged calling her a hero. 

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at