I, Tonya

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I was really looking forward to this movie. I think Allison Janney is one of the more interesting actresses working today, and seeing her teamed up with one of the prettiest actresses working today (Margot Robbie) — it seemed it would score a perfect 6.0. For those of us that remember the ice skating incident, we’ll all agree it ranks up there as one of the craziest stories to happen in sports history. An ice skater hiring goons to break the kneecap of the favored skater. Had a Hollywood script been written, nobody would’ve believed it.

Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Million Dollar Arm, Fright Night, Mr. Woodcock), making one of a handful of bad decisions in this movie, plays domestic violence for cheap laughs. He wants it both ways, thinking that will make this a black comedy. Look, Homer Simpson can grab Bart by the neck and strangle him and we chuckle. They’re animated. You show a mom stab her daughter, or a husband slam his wife’s face into a mirror, and her kicking him in the crotch and shooting a rifle at him…it’s hardly humorous. You can vacillate between comedy and drama and make it work. They almost did here, but the tone is all wrong.

They went for the mockumentary style, and breaking of the fourth wall, that had mixed results. They were hoping for a Goodfellas, American Hustle, and The Big Short vibe. They fell short.

The movie is getting raved reviews from the critics that saw it months ago, so perhaps Gillespie was smart to do it the way he did. But just as I said about the movie Milk — a better film would’ve been a bio-pic about both characters, going back and forth. The same with this. It could’ve been half Nancy Kerrigan’s American pie story and upbringing, intertwined with Tonya Harding’s white trash life. Instead, we only get two quick scenes with Kerrigan in this two hour film. They opted to do a mockumentary style with Harding and her husband Jeff Gillooly telling their stories.

We don’t learn much about Harding (other than that she loves Dove bars), because the stories we’re being shown are in their own words. And believe me, the filmmakers were being real kind to Harding. The way Tonya has been showing up at red carpet screenings, is also a turnoff for me. Why is she being celebrated with this movie? It should make the world, and a whole new generation, hate her. I mean, did everyone watch The People vs O.J. Simpson and chuckle at domestic abuse and feel bad for Simpson? But I digress.

As bothered as I was by the movie, I won’t be bothered if Robbie gets an Oscar nomination. She gained weight and transformed into Harding nicely. Allison Janney as her mom, makes Mommie Dearest look like Mother Teresa. She steals every scene she’s in (and in one of the rare funny moments that work, looks into the camera and asks why her storyline is disappearing).

We see the volatile marriage to Gillooly (Sebastian Stan of Captain America). We get to see Harding trying to deal with judges that don’t like the image she’s portraying. For example, she can’t afford the outfits the other skaters have, so she doesn’t look as classy; and she’s skating to ZZ Top’s “Sleeping Bag.” Speaking of the songs, I’m tired of movies playing a bunch of classic rock tunes (ala Guardians of the Galaxy), thinking they have some hip film because of it. In this, it was cool when we first hear Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman” but the songs (Marshall Tucker Band, Supertramp, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, and Chicago) often try to push along the narrative. That’s always a corny move. I don’t need to hear Bad Company singing about you becoming a “shooting star” or when you land that triple-axel, hearing Foreigner sing “Feels Like the First Time.” Or Dire Straits singing “Romeo and Juliet” during a courtship. And seriously, how many movies are going to continue to use Spirit in the Sky? (I’ll give the movie bonus points though, for using the terrific Violent Femmes song “Gone Daddy Gone”).

Gillooly’s best friend, and future Harding bodyguard, is Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser). His character would’ve been fun, as he talks like a wannabe spy. Yet they’re always showing him eating in each scene. We get it. He’s a fat dude. But does that mean he has to eat in every scene?

Many critics are complaining about Robbie not doing her own skating and her head being given the CGI treatment and put on another skater. Those complaints are small potatoes. I didn’t even notice it, and I’m guessing you’d really have to be looking hard to notice it.

McKenna Grace, who was good in the movie Gifted, plays a younger Harding.

This picture had some entertaining scenes (nothing conveys Tonya Harding’s personality more than showing a cigarette being put out with an ice skate).

Now because of this film, Harding can now do interviews about this, make money, and bask in the limelight. In fact, she did one recently where she claims she didn’t know about the attack, but overheard her husband planning “something.” Uh, isn’t that “knowing”? And if it’s not, how about you call the cops immediately after, and tell them what you do know? Look, if we’re going to hate O.J. Simpson for murdering two people and not let him do anymore Naked Gun films, can’t we hate a figure skater that was part of a plot to physically destroy a rival? In fact, this movie actually shows Kerrigan in a worse light than Harding (considering we already knew all the bad stuff about Harding and this merely elicits sympathy because of the childhood she had).

Perhaps this movie should be used for people like LaVar Ball to watch, so he can see what he’s doing to his three kids; although I’m guessing it wouldn’t phase him. But hey…if watching this movie just helps one stage mom or Little League father/coach change their ways…that will be a good thing.

The movie had a severe lack of direction, and the different tones don’t make for the most cohesive narrative.

2 stars out of 5.