The 1994 conspiracy on ice that was so bizarre it seemed like it had to be a prank is now detailed in a motion picture that on its surface also seems like it must be farcical.
But even with all the bewilderment brought about by the Nancy Kerrigan assault and the tongue-in-cheek manner in which this flick has been marketed I can tell you with every degree of certainty that it’s no joke.
“I, Tonya” is 100 percent dysfunctional fun, starting off by announcing that it is (snicker) “…based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews…” and progressing to show us those direct statements, along with flashbacks to flesh out this timeline of twisted events.
Addressing the camera and describing things as they remember them are, among others: Jeff Gillooley (Sebastian Stan), Tonya’s first love and ex-husband; Jeff’s doughy and expressionless buddy Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), a self-proclaimed “international counter-terrorism agent and professional bodyguard” (snicker, snicker); LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), Tonya’s unfeeling, foul-mouthed, and chain-smoking mother; and the woman herself, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie – genius!)
We’re walked through the most significant events and incidents, competitions and experiences that molded the Tonya Harding we all saw in the public eye in 1994; it’s an attempt to help us understand the how that led to the why.
The skating sequences put us right there on the ice, the sweeping camera work expressing the exhilaration as well as the pressure – from the crowds, from the judges, from Tonya’s mother – of fulfilling expectations and executing precision routines.
And let’s not forget that 90s fashion – err, “fashion.” There’s the big, big hair; the mock turtleneck shirts; the Girbaud jeans (why the hell did we pay $90 for a pair of jeans?!?!). While laughable, seeing all of this again was nevertheless nostalgic.
It’s no secret that the incident – “the f*cking incident” – is the big draw here, but “I, Tonya” is so much more; it goes beyond the figure skating feud that headlined every news station and newsstand and introduces the woman behind the man who had a friend who knew a guy who willfully turned Olympic safety on its head with that infamous “whack” heard ’round the world.
The movie exhibits a campy and spirited feel, with bits of humor and those out-of-the-ordinary instances of characters breaking through the fourth wall, helping to offset the heavy and jolting moments of verbal and emotional abuse that are so prevalent they almost require a mention in the cast list.
Be prepared for a litany of swearing. There’s so much, and I’m not sure if this was for real or simply a Hollywood embellishment to enhance the persona of “the girl from the wrong side of the tracks” that Harding clearly was suggested to possess.
Doesn’t matter. Robbie doesn’t miss a beat when slinging vulgarities, and Janney recites that sh*t like a f*ckin’ champ.
Never has the f-word sounded so poetic, complemented by Janney’s patented emphatic sighs and bothered gazes, during which her eyes are half-open yet still filled with overwhelming disapproval and condescension.
All of that accompanied by jaw-dropping blasphemy raises her character to next-level bitch status. She’s absolutely heartless yet so stealthily wicked that you are inexplicably fascinated and actually will beg for more.
It’s easy to see why Janney received an Oscar nod for this role (psst… she’s gonna win).
The playfulness with which “I, Tonya” is presented doesn’t take away from the gravity of the incident at its center but rather expresses the absurdity in its process and the disbelief that it ever was carried out “by two of the biggest boobs in a story populated solely by boobs.”
That it happened at all is a head scratcher, and I give credit to director Craig Gillespie for making this feel less like an episode of “20/20” and more of a quirky behind-the-scenes look at, well… how sh*t went down.
“I was loved for a minute. Then I was hated. It was like being abused all over again.”
“I, Tonya” is shocking and smart and sarcastic. It’s completely unfiltered and wholly entertaining. And I feel like this flick helps shed some light on the longing ambition of this skater who just wanted to make a name for herself.
It may not have been what she intended, but… mission accomplished.