Elation and desperation. These are the two of the most poignant feelings that the Craig Gillespie directed I, Tonya captures on screen and plants in the hearts of the audience.
Dressed in a teal coloured leotard, Tonya Harding, played by the wide-smiled Margot Robbie struts and punches the air in sheer ecstasy when she becomes the first American woman to perform the daring triple axel skating move on an ice rink. The same smiling and confidence displayed by the real-life 20-year-old Harding in 1991 when she wins the National Championships is evoked by Robbie, when she says: “I was the best figure skater in the world…at one point in time.”
Robbie’s declaration of ‘that point in time’ echoes in the air and foreshadows the downfall that lies ahead for Harding. Three years later clad in a sequinned, maroon coloured outfit, Harding desperately tries to smile but she can’t hide from the mirror and the crowd and she can’t hide from herself at the 1994 Winter Olympics. She fumbles with her laces and equally through her moves and crumbles on the ice rink. Life doesn’t stop for sport.
Told through a series of mockumentary style interviews the film gives a glimpse in to the tumultuous and downright unlucky fortunes of defamed figure skater, Tonya Harding and her connection to the attack on fellow figure skater, Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 prior to the Winter Olympics.
Harding isn’t particularly likeable. She isn’t a glowing, all-American girl. She’s scruffy and clumsy and she’s a bit of a bitch. You can love her or hate her for constantly rushing back to her heavy-handed husband, Jeff Gillooly (Stan Sebastian) or you can laugh or cry at the scathing insults her mother Lavona Golden (Allison Janney) spits at her.
‘America wants someone to love but they also want someone to hate’- this is how Harding describes her situation and it has many similarities to the controversy surrounding the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith’s Olympic medals two years later in Atlanta following doping claims. Just like Harding, you either love Smith, hate her or are at least suspicious of her. While 27-year-old Robbie playing the 15-year-old Tonya in the film’s early scenes is cringe-worthy and her 5ft 5 inches stature isn’t representative of the pint-sized Tonya Harding, the film will make you feel something and will have you googling the name Tonya Harding on the car journey home.