DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie STARRING: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale PRODUCER: Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Steven Rogers, Bryan Unkeless SCREENWRITER: Steven Rogers MUSIC: Peter Nashel CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nicolas Karakatsanis EDITOR: Tatiana S. Riegel GENRE: Biography – Drama PRODUCTION COMPANY: LuckyChap Entertainment, Clubhouse Pictures, AI Film DISTRIBUTOR: Neon COUNTRY: United States LANGUAGE: English RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
Technical assessment: 3.5
Moral assessment: 3
CINEMA rating: V16
I Tonya is a biopic of American Olympian skater Tonya Harding. The movie employs “mockumentary” breaking of the 4th wall techniques to lighten the tragic fate of the protagonist. The movie follows Tonya as she wades through her abusive mother molding and training her to become a figure skater through negative reinforcement. Through rigid training, Tonya becomes the best female figure skater but her social status and unconventional choices prevent her from being acknowledged as one. At 15 or 16, she marries 18 year old Jeff Gillooly who seems to confuse her with a punching bag. Meanwhile, Tonya diverts her pain to perfecting her craft. She becomes the first figure skater to complete a triple axel in the competition. She qualifies for the 1994 Olympic competition, but an half-witted plan of her husband and her bodyguard to disable her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, backfires. Nancy finishes 2nd while she lands in the 8th place, her husband and cohorts are arrested and she, banned from figure skating, resigns to her fate shifts to boxing.
The tragic life of Tonya is somewhat lightened by the style Gillespie has taken. But the laughters are not sustained as the discomforted audience choke a bit every time Tonya breaks the wall in an effort to annotate her pain through witty sarcasm. The story is not unique but the story telling is. It is almost embarrassing to be entertained by Tonya’s life knowing that more than half of it is real. But the biggest success of the film is Robbie’s explosive personality and dynamic performance (some scenes could not keep up with her). This movie not only chronicles one of the most controversial scandals in figure skating history but also leaves a dent in our consciousness that audiences will remember long after the end credits roll. Mostly because it does not try too hard to shove the truth to the audience but explores the different sides of the truth without melodrama but with more impact.
Pain damages and breaks people. But it is the emotional, not the physical pain, that leaves deeper scars. From the beginning, Tonya was in pain—her mother’s verbal abuse, the discrimination of the figure skating environments and her husband’s violence. Eventually that pain defined her self-worth that she needed to resort to nonconformity to redefine herself. The very structure that needed to support a person’s dignity and growth were the very ones that destroyed them. Perhaps this is a strong reminder for all of us. As part of the structure, our role is to be the nesting ground for a person to discover, to form and to strengthen his humanity. We need to be the healer of pain not the creator of wounds. We need to build bridges with acceptance and respect, not walls that segregate and divide. As individuals, we need to discover our worth in our hearts and souls regardless of what the structure offers. We need to realize that the first aid to the pain of rejection, abuse and violence is the love we give ourselves. The movie needs mature and discerning audiences to understand the layers of meanings between scenes.