I, Tonya Review – Triumphant; A Solid Gold, Four Star, Dramady

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I, Tonya, from Clubhouse Pictures, Neon and 30West, presents the story of Tonya Harding and the outrageous, unbelievable, amazing wild ride she took from poverty to the best figure skater in the world and her tragic, shocking, horrible crash.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, I, Tonya, stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale, McKenna Grace, Caitlin Carver, Julianne Nicholson, Bojana Novakovic, Paul Walter Hauser, Anthony Reynolds, Jan Harrelson and Luray Cooper. I, Tonya was written by Steven Rogers. 

Showcased at the 2017 American Film Institute Film Festival presented by Audi, I, Tonya, is filmed in interview style with frequent fourth wall breaks as the characters would eye the camera and confirm or deny particular episodes in the volatile rise and fall and resurrection of the one time world champion.

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Tonya, played by Margot Robbie, opens the film, smoking a cigarette, with a leftover perm, cowboy boots, a denim jacket, with the statement that the world wants to hear, "I mean, come on! What kind of friggin' person bashes in their friend's knee? Who would do that to a friend?"

Then the film really begins. As the camera moves between three main characters, Jeff Gillooly, played by Sebastian Stan, and LaVona Golden, Tonya's mom, played by Allison Janney. As the "incident" as it has become known is discussed the story digresses to the beginning of Tonya Harding's figure skating career.

On that day we meet LaVona, a chain smoking, hard core, cursing, and generally shocking person who recognizes her daughter's ability to ice skate and is able to find the best coach, Diane Rawlinson, played by Julianne Nicholson, and persuade her to against her better judgment to coach a young Tonya, played by McKenna Grace.

Tonya grew up in an abusive environment, and oddly, the effort necessary to be a champion can be considered abusive by others. And as facts go, she was often, as the film depicts treated abusively as a child and as the abuse become more aggressive until her mother stabbed her with a knife. Okay, granted LaVona tossed the knife at her with enough force that it stuck in her arm.

At this point Tonya was dating her future husband, Jeff, and skating competitively and making a name, along with a bad reputation, for herself on the ice. As much as she wanted to be judged fairly, she was always discriminated against, and finally fed up she approached a judge rink side who told her they also judged her on her appearance.

And outside the rink, alone, she was told; Ice skating is for princesses, for those with a wholesome American family, she, as everyone knew was the antithesis of ethereal ice goddess and her family was best suited for a Most Wanted poster.

After we meet Tonya as a child and see the dedication, drive, and ability she gives to skating against all odds, she's fighting her mother, who credits herself with Tonya's success, she's fighting preconceived ideas about the sport, fighting poverty, fighting herself and every other demon that is chasing her as she become the only woman in figure skating history, at the time to attempt and complete a triple axel, stick the landing and skate into history.

And even as the world was in awe the judges plotted to find a way to rid themselves of this blemish, this blight that forced her way onto the podium and into the record books.

Of course, the I, Tonya story wouldn't be complete without the Nancy Kerrigan "issue." We barely meet Nancy, played by Caitlin Carver, with a few scenes filled in by Tonya we find out she and Nancy were at one point friends, rooming together on the road. The bad blood belief was media made to earn bigger, better ratings.

Tonya, was obviously a great skater, raised in an abusive environment, she didn't always have the best judgment. When she moves out she moves in with Jeff and soon wedded bliss has flown the coup and she becomes, once again, the victim of violent assaults. This cycle goes on for many years.

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And during a "make-up" phase, her husband Jeff, who at some point had some sense although not much of it was left during his marriage to Tonya, becomes her business manager. And someone who negotiates deals. So to be kind they enlist Shawn Eckhardt, played by Evan George Hauser, to be her body guard. Shawn, we find out has delusions of being a counter terrorism expert. It is equally sad and terrifying.

Tonya just wants to skate. She can win a place on the Olympic Team, fairly, even defeating ethereal princess Nancy when the world shatters underneath her.

I, Tonya is an unexpected, surprising, tragic/triumphant film. Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan and Paul Walter Hauser are extraordinary!

I thought I knew about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident and I came out of this film with respect for Ms. Harding as she was presented. More than a champion skater she is brave, daring, courageous, fearless and inspiring. Even now.

High marks to Robbie for her technical performance handling most of the ice skating and physical demands herself after only five months of lessons. 

This film is solid gold! A wild, shocking ride with Margot Robbie and Allison Janney giving impressive and OCSAR bound performances.

I, Tonya, opens December 8, 2017, in theaters everywhere! See this film! 


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