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I, Tonya

I, Tonya: Another Look?

  • Allison JanneyMargot Robbie...
  • ComedyDrama
  • Craig Gillespie
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Cairo 360
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I, Tonya: Another Look?

Judging people upon first glance is not condoned, but what about judging someone based on how she/he were historically portrayed, and/or how she/he were discussed by and in the media? I, Tonya gives audiences the opportunity to rethink their judgement of Tonya Harding.

I, Tonya is a biopic of Olympic figure-skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), who was banned from skating after her debatable association with an attack directed at her rival. After a media frenzy, Tonya was hated, disgraced, and defamed as some type of monster.

The film tells Tonya’s story from her rough childhood, where her father abandons her, and her mother (Allison Janney) physically and verbally abuses her, while claiming her abuse comes from a place of love. The film also discusses Tonya’s relationship with her abusive husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan), including how Tonya and Jeff met. The first act of the film is a set-up of Tonya’s childhood; the film seeks to give context to how she became the Tonya Harding we know. The film not only highlights her resilience through her mother’s abuse, it also highlights her resilience through Jeff’s abuse. 

The film also focuses on Tonya’s achievements as a skater; she was the first American woman to attempt, and complete, a dangerous move called the Triple Axel Jump. The climax of the film is when “the incident” occurs; Tonya’s rival was attacked by men who Jeff had allegedly hired. From their, the discrepancies of what actually happened, how much Tonya actually knew about the attack, and whether or not Tonya was misrepresented by the media, turn this film from a biographical feature into a combination of genres. 

The film takes on an interview based narrative, whereby interviews conducted with older versions of the characters are featured in the film. The discrepancies among the different accounts leave audiences mind blown. The film also plays with self-reflexivity; by having actors talk directly to the camera, or beak the Third wall, audiences are constantly reminded that they are merely watching a movie. While this latter point does not typically work in most films, in this film it works well. It works well because it is aligned with the entire point of the film: this is merely a film about Tonya’s life, and much like most media accounts, it can’t possibly show nor even claim to represent every aspect of Tonya’s life in a manner that is completely objective and/or true. 

The showstopper of the film is Margot Robbie’s brilliant performance. Pure genius. Not only was she able to take a hated character, who is portrayed with several unlikable traits, and evoke some form of empathy from audiences, but she was also able to deliver a character that is fiery, complex, and uninhibited. Robbie portrayed crazy eyes, a wicked smile, and other demonizing expressions, but still managed to have audiences doubt any existing negative judgement they held towards Tonya Harding.

That being said, Margot Robbie’s match was Allison Janney. If a good actor/actress is measured by his/her capacity to make audiences hate him/her while playing a villain, than Janney is absolute gold. Janney took charge of the character she was playing: she owned the abusive words that she was yelling out, she owned the unyielding expressions of hatred directed towards her own daughter, and not once did she show any loving expressions. All this, and much more, made Jenny’s performance authentically unforgettable. 

Sebastian Stan’s performance was expressive, but, against these two tycoons, he was overshadowed and did not stand a chance.

I, Tonya is not a redemption film nor is it a condemnation. It’s neither a biography nor a fiction film. It is an intense, unashamed, unapologetic, and honest account of how different people see and analyze past events. All in all, this film is worth watching.

Like This? Try

Battle of the Sexes (2017), Gia (1997), Selena (1997), Elizabeth & Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), Coco Before Chanel (2009), Funny Girl (1968) Hidden Figures (2017), The Iron Lady (2011)

360 Tip

Allison Janney had seriously trained to become a figure skater throughout her childhood and adolescence. However, when she was 17, she accidentally walked into a sliding glass door and gravely injured her right leg.

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