I, Tonya

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

I, Tonya
"Tonya's story is a blinder. You walk away with your heart bruised and your eyes swollen"

Tonya Harding. The name rings. Skating? Figure skating. Not the dance stuff. The individual. The 80s. Or was it the 90s? The US Olympic team. Harding was accused of injuring her rival. Broke her leg, or something. She said she didn't do it; she said she was innocent. The judge thought otherwise. End of.

Tonya's story, as portrayed in Craig Gillespie's film, is a blinder. You walk away with your heart bruised and your eyes swollen. It's not exactly a biopic because it refuses to stay in the safe lane. It is one big flashback, snipped and edited into episodic sections, blackened with the darkest humour.

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Her mother (Allison Janney) is a waitress in a diner in some unwashed rottweiler of a town. She has ambition for the girl who, from the age of three, wanted nothing more than to skate.

"You were soft," her mother says. "I made you a fighter."

Tonya grows up. She learns fast.

"You're a monster." .

"Spilt milk, baby."

Abuse, sexual and physical, "is an every day occurrence". The man who becomes her husband (Sebastian Stan) is a low life charmer with rage in his veins. He fights her; she fights him. She goes on the ice full of fury with a self belief that makes no friends.

Those who pick the US team and the judges in every competition she has ever entered don't approve of her attitude. What they are looking for are home taught manners and compliant behavior.

"I don't have a wholesome American family," she tells them. "Why can't it be about the skating?"

She's a peanut butter and jelly girl who looks like "she chops wood every morning", no daddy now, only a witch for a mom who cannot express love, nor give praise ("You skated like a graceless bull dyke") that might be mistaken for encouragement.

And then there is The Incident when Nancy Kerrigan is taken out of contention leaving space for Harding on the team. This is handled like a farce with idiot thugs botching a stupid plan. Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers have the courage to be honest, using an original approach, leaving no room for sweet dreams, or a feelgood finale.

"I was loved for a minute," Tonya recalls. "Then I was hated. And then I was a punchline."

Janney is given brutal lines. It is a performance that wins awards. The real revelation is Margot Robbie. Better known as the Aussie stunna who has appeared too often as a leading man's squeeze (with Will Smith in Focus and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street) she breaks cover now and goes down market with extraordinary effect. Forget the glam. This is acting from the inside out.

"I've never been a girlie girl," Tonya says.

Margot, too?

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2018
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Dramatisation of the story of ice skater Tonya Harding.
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Festivals:

Palm Springs 2018

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