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“I, TONYA” a Biography of Love and Hate







Review by John Delia, Sr.

Most everyone who has lived 1980’s through today has either heard of the figure skater Tonya Harding or maybe followed the antics she took to the Olympics in 1994. Or just google Tonya Harding and you’ll get the drift of what happened. But, how many of you know the “truth” according to her book “I, Tonya”? You’ll see it in the tell all film of love and hate.

But first the good stuff. Tonya was a terrific figure skater with a lot of self-discipline and was the first American woman to ever complete two “triple axel” jumps in the same official skating competition that being the 1991 Skate America. Now, what’s a triple axel you say? Its 3 consecutive jumps while you are ice skating at high speed, an extremely difficult maneuver.

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I, TONYA

Here’s how Wikipedia describes it. “Compared to other common figure skating jumps, an axel has an extra ½ rotation in the air because of its forward take off. Most skaters perform the jump with counterclockwise rotation, taking off from the left forward outside edge and landing on the right back outside edge. (But a minority of skaters perform it the opposite direction). The axel can also be done as a double jump with 2 ½ rotations, or as a triple jump with 3 ½ rotations.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axel_jump

Well now you know why Tonya Harding is an important person in the world of competitive sports, specifically Ice Figure Skating. So here’s a brief introduction to the movie. I, Tonya becomes so engrossing, comical and gripping at times that the film can be classified as a biographical drama with dark comedy.

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding and Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly in I, TONYA

Let’s begin. Tonya Harding (Mckenna Grace) grew up a rough and tumble life, but obstinate yet determined she out lasted years of psychological abuse by her mother (Allison Janney). Always wanting to be an ice skater at a very early age she was identified as a natural pressing hard to show her skills. Her mother taunted her to be better or quit, but thankfully Tonya ignored her. Instead, she grew even more adamant to become perfect and that she did.

Now older and having the skating experience Tonya (Margot Robbie) starts making mistakes. Oh, not in her skating, that’s still amazing. She chooses unwisely and takes up with a Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), even marrying him. But, her biggest mistake comes when her husband wants to even the playing field against America’s sweetheart of skating Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). And that’s when the incident happens at the U.S. Nationals in Detroit, and it will never go away for the rest of Tonya’s life.

The incident involving Tonya’s shoe lace I, TONYA

Director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours, Lars and the Real Girl) puts his brand on the film making it a lively compelling story that punctuates the full of life Harding. Not holding back a thing, Gillespie shows the affected Tonya right down to the nitty gritty from her tempestuous childhood to a tumultuous married life. He draws out a brilliant performance from Margot Robbie as she depicts the amazing talent Harding had in the biggest Ice Area of all time.

The acting is superb all around and with three standout performances by Margot Robbie as the older Tonya, Allison Janney as her mother LaVona Golden and Mckenna Grace as pre-teen Tonya. McKenna Grace breaks your heart as she does battle with her mother who pushes her without any positive reinforcement to excel. Grace handles the role with aplomb showing the tough determined side of young Tonya.

Allison Janney as Tonya’s mom LaVona Golden in I, TONYA

The performance by Allison Janney is what Academy Awards are for and she nails the role of LaVona. As Tonya’s mom one could hope that she’s on a mission to get her out of the small town life she’s living and become a star. She’s constantly on the child’s case teaching her how to be a tough competitor with no ties to her competition except being on the same ice rink. Taunting her at times, it’s hard to take, but nevertheless she’s the glue that keeps Tonya on the road to success.

Perfectly cast as the older Tonya, Margot Robbie shows the woman’s tenacity and grace on the ice. Off the ice it’s another story, one that will eventually dethrone her for the life of the game. Falling for the first man she meets makes her mother a staunch enemy, but Tonya has gone way past what momma wants. It’s a turning point in her career and one Tonya will regret.

I, Tonya has been rated R by the MPAA for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity. The film ended up in my top 10 picks for 2017

FINAL ANALYSIS: Excellent performances and compelling story make this a winner. (5 out of 5 stars)

Additional Film Information
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale,
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity
Running Time: 2 hours
Release Date: January 5, 2018
Distributed by: 30 West

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