If you were to ask anyone who was around during the 90s if they remember the infamous Nancy Kerrigan incident, chances are that they will tell you every piece of news- from the attack to the court sentencing of those responsible. They will tell you that Kerrigan was a victim of a ruthless attack by Tonya Harding, and will usually hold negative feelings toward Harding. However, not a lot of people would truly know how Harding came up as a figure skater or her chaotic childhood.
To those who have no idea what incident I am referring to: on January 6, 1994, a man named Shane Shant attacked figure skater Nancy Kerrigan with a baton to the knee with the intention to break her leg. Kerrigan was badly bruised instead, and the attack launched an investigation. Two others were found to be connected to the attack; a man named Jeff Gillooly and another man named Shawn Eckhardt. Jeff Gillooly was Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, another prominent figure skater. Gillooly, Eckhardt, and Shant were all sentenced to prison time, whereas Harding, after pleading guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers, was banned from competing in any figure skating competitions for life.
The 2017 film I, Tonya, directed by Craig Gillespie, turns the camera instead from Nancy Kerrigan to Tonya Harding. This led many to ask “Why is Tonya getting her own movie? She was the attacker!” Well, even though it is debatable whether or not Harding knew about the attack beforehand, this is definitely a film worth watching despite what you might know about Harding.
Released in the United States on December 8, the film received acclaim from critics, earning numerous accolades and nominations at the Golden Globes and Oscars. The main cast consists of Margot Robbie as Harding, Allison Janney as Harding’s mother LaVona, and Sebastian Stan as Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. Their performances were all well received, however Janney as LaVona was highly acclaimed, which earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
The film sheds light on Harding’s childhood, which is shown to have been rough due to her father leaving her family and LaVona’s verbal and physical abuse. It also shows her relationship to Gillooly, which was also filled with explosive fights and abuse, eventually culminating in divorce. It also shows her career as a figure skater, from her training as a child to her final performance at the 1994 Olympics.
Immediately when I started watching the film, I realized almost immediately that this was not your average biopic. One of the aspects of the film that stood out to me was the soundtrack. The soundtrack consisted of eclectic songs taken from Harding’s actual performances, such as ZZ Top’s “Sleeping Bag”, and other songs that are fitting to the theme of the movie. The selection of some of the songs was perfect, such as Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman:, which played during a scene with LaVona, and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”, which comes on at the end where Harding competes in a boxing match.
Another part of the film I highly enjoyed was the acting, along with the script. The dialogue itself was brilliant, but the actors, especially Margot Robbie, really made it more special and memorable. The explosive dialogue and the hard-hitting music helped make the film feel more fast-paced, The movie was almost like a whirlwind, which might be how Harding felt when it comes to the media frenzy that occurred after the attack and in the Olympics in which Harding and Kerrigan competed in.
The film also makes Harding a more sympathetic person, since the film shows her to be a victim of her abusive environment. One might feel even more sympathetic when you realize that not only was her whole career was ruined because of the people around her, but her reputation was even further tarnished by society. One might even come to the conclusion that her career might have been doomed from the start, since the film shows her struggling to shake off the “white-trash” stereotype that has been put upon her, and the figure skating judges’ unwillingness to try to remove their classist prejudice.
In the end, I, Tonya is the film that many did not expect to happen, but then again, no one expected that one day there was going to be widespread international attention towards figure skating before the incident. I, Tonya was electric- - intense yet also emotional. It is difficult not to feel anything towards Harding, and the film does an excellent job of pulling on your heartstrings. The stellar performances, along with an equally volatile soundtrack, blend together to make this film, unlike any other sports movie or biopic you have ever watched. I remember seeing a quote from The Playlist in the trailer, which called it “the Goodfellas of figure skating [movies]”. As a fan of both I, Tonya and Goodfellas, I wholeheartedly agreed with the comparison, and I subsequently found it quite amusing that this sports film is more on the lines of mafia films than other sports flicks.
I, Tonya is available for online rentals and is also on DVD, but if you want to see it in theaters, you can stop by the West Boylston Cinema to watch it.