The 1994 Lillehammer Olympics took place four years before I was born, so I wasn’t around to form an opinion on whether or not figure skater Tonya Harding was to blame for the brutal attack on her competitor. Fortunately, Craig Gillespie’s 2017 biopic, “I, Tonya,” is a movie that can be enjoyed even by those who didn’t experience the story as it unfolded, as it seems just as confused about what went down as the general public. The plot of “I, Tonya” is contradictory. It gets wilder at every turn. At times, I got the feeling that Director Craig Gillespie was definitely making a film without having all the facts. But I guess that’s what happens when you try to tell a story based on completely contradictory testimonies. It’s a “true story,” technically, but I came out of the theater feeling like I’d never get the whole truth. “I, Tonya” is definitely not concerned about answering the question: “Did she do it?” It has a more important story to tell.
By far, my favorite part of “I, Tonya” was the way the story was told; it was framed as a documentary, but the writers used narration as well. Both strategies were great for characterization. You’d think it would get busy or distracting after a while, but the pacing was spot-on, and the characters really grabbed my attention and kept it.
I saw an amazing (truly Oscar-worthy) performance from Allison Janney, Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan were both absolute stars. The soundtrack’s classic rock beats really hit on Harding’s toughness, both on and off the ice.
I don’t have a lot of things I disliked about the movie; however, if you do watch it, it’s important to know that its portrayal of domestic abuse is both shocking and poignant in its offhandedness. I watch a lot of violent movies, but the constant deluge of blows raining down on Harding was very difficult to watch, even for me.
It’s a sympathetic portrayal of Harding, to be certain, but it also doesn’t skirt around her tendency to shift the blame to others. Robbie repeatedly claims, “…but that wasn’t my fault,” in her mock-interview sessions years later.
Although the film left me with more questions than answers about the true events of “the incident,” and although the extent of Harding’s involvement was left intentionally vague, her portrayal by Robbie gave me a certain respect for her. Maybe it was because I wasn’t around when all of this craziness went down, but when she was on the ice, I wanted her to succeed, even if just as a reprieve for all she’s been through. Needless to say, “I, Tonya” portrayed the famous skater in a much different light than the media of the time.
“I, Tonya” is a story that begs the question: What do you do when all the sides of the story don’t fit together nicely? When every participant has a different account of what went down? This film barely concerns itself with the attack; what really matters to Gillespie is the characters, the people, involved. And when all is said and done, it’s up to the audience to decide what they are capable of.