Harding finally tells her side in “I, Tonya”


Margot Robbie stars in “I, Tonya,” the story of famous figure skater Tonya Harding throughout her youth as well as her involvement in the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan. (Courtesy of IMBD)

“I, Tonya” has been one of the breakout hits of this year’s award season. Already gathering awards from the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, it was announced this week that “I, Tonya” has also been nominated for three Academy Awards.

Depicting the life and tragedies of figure skater Tonya Harding, the mockumentary follows Harding from her hopeful early success to her time as one of the most hated people in America following controversy involving figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. Directed by Craig Gillespie and starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney the film is beloved by both critics and fans and has grossed over $11 million in its first two weeks of wide release.

The film tells Harding’s story through both a mockumentary style and a depiction of events, many of which are recreated shot by shot from real video clips and interviews.

Beginning with Harding’s impoverished childhood in Portland, Oregon, we watch as she grows as a figure skater under the ruling of her abusive mother. After meeting future husband Jeff Gillooly, Harding begins another abusive cycle in her life as she strives to get recognition for her figure skating.

Following her successful triple axel jump in competition, Harding finds the success and adoration she was searching for her whole life. However, involvement from her then ex-husband, Gillooly, lead to an attack on Harding’s rival Nancy Kerrigan, which Harding gets blamed for.

This endangers Harding’s entire career. Her spot on the Olympic team is jeopardized as she stands trial for her involvement in the attack. Hitting on both the well-known events of Harding’s life as well as smaller details that shaped who she was, “I, Tonya” allows the audience to know the real Tonya Harding: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The heartbreaking story of Harding’s great successes and great downfalls is extremely emotional with Margot Robbie leading a detailed and accurate portrayal that the audience can’t help but root for. Robbie plays Harding with an individual sense of spirit and hope that doesn’t fade despite numerous setbacks. Even watching Harding make bad decision after bad decision, the audience feels a sense of love for her unwavering dedication and persistence.

Allison Janney has been critically acclaimed for her performance in this film and received a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild award and a Critics Choice award for her performance as Harding’s mother, LaVona Golden. Despite her supporting role in the film, Janney steals every scene. Janney plays Golden as she was: an unapologetic woman who, despite media slander, never changed her abusive ways.

Sebastian Stan also performed in one of his best roles yet. Very different from anything he has done before, his role as Jeff Gillooly felt real through all of the twists and turns of the story. Stan truly transformed into his character, adapting to the horrific actions in a way that felt absolutely honest.

Paul Walter Hauser gave a hilarious and precise performance as Shawn, Gillooly’s accomplice. Watching the real footage of these characters shown at the end of the film gives the audience an appreciation for the effort all of the actors went through to give an absolutely exact performance, no matter how terrible their character’s actions may have been.

The film takes on a mockumentary style of storytelling, which was surprising to some considering the serious nature of the material. Gillespie takes the unique format and runs with it, using the talking head interviews to add an individual touch to the film. Knowing all of the lines were taken from actual interviews done with Harding, Golden and Gillooly only makes the one-liners even more humorous. It also provides a sense of development for these people, especially Harding, being able to see their commentary on the events both in the moment and many years later.

The film is beautiful to look at and masterfully crafted. Shot on film, it fully embraces the time period through its choice of aesthetics. The soundtrack, filled with ‘70s and ‘80s hits, also pulls the audience deeper into the time period. No detail of the production was spared. Every effort was put into accurately recreating Harding’s iconic moments while also reflecting the director’s own vision.

Those who remember the media frenzy surrounding Harding in the ‘90s or know her for her black-sheep recognition may have been skeptical seeing a film about a woman who is known for her faults. “I, Tonya” tells Harding’s story of a cycle of abuse, the absolute dedication she put into her skating, the harsh punishment she took for an event she had little involvement in. The film deals with serious and timely subject matters including issues of classism, discrimination and abuse.

The film’s honest and graphic depiction of Harding’s abuse from her mother and ex-husband is important, especially during the current “Time’s Up” and “#MeToo” movements. Gillespie does not back away at any point from telling the entire truth of Harding’s struggles, no matter how ugly they may be.

The story, although tragic, is ultimately about Harding’s search for freedom and happiness in her own life. After being beaten down for years by those close to her as well as the entire figure skating industry, Harding is still able to roll with the punches and find fulfillment whenever possible.

While other figure skaters of the time may be remembered for their grace and elegance, “I, Tonya” has memorialized Harding as a force to be reckoned with, on and off the ice.