THE LOS ANGELES TIMES – It is an event that lives on in tabloid infamy: the tale of figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan and their battle to make it to the 1994 Winter Olympics. The new film “I, Tonya” reframes that story to fully spotlight Harding, transforming her from a media-made villain into someone far more human, fragile and tragic.
A title card at the beginning of the film declares that it is based on “irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews” with Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. The portrait of Harding drawn by the film is one of sharp edges and hard landings, a woman with raw athletic abilities who couldn’t fit in with the refined image of the figure skating establishment.
Harding made some of her costumes herself and sometimes performed to music by ZZ Top. She also was the first American woman to land the extremely difficult and still-rare triple axel jump in competition. But the scandal that ensued after Kerrigan was attacked at the 1994 national figure skating championships left a long shadow over Harding’s reputation and legacy. Gillooly was implicated in planning the crime, and questions remain about Harding’s level of involvement.
Directed by Craig Gillespie from a screenplay by Steven Rogers, “I, Tonya” is a showcase for energetic, emotional performances by Margot Robbie as Harding, Sebastian Stan as Gillooly and Allison Janney as Harding’s mother, LaVona Golden.
Australian-born Robbie, best-known for her breakthrough role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and more recently as Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad,” had never heard the Harding saga when the script first came through her production company, LuckyChap Entertainment. (Robbie is also a producer on the film.) She was immediately struck by the rowdy energy of the storytelling and the complicated depiction of Harding.
“It was a character that scared me but also intrigued me,” said Robbie, who would go on to some five months of figure skating training for the part.