I, TONYA: Among the elitist ice princesses of women’s figure skating, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) defined the word “outsider”. She was a cigarette smoking, pool playing in dive bars, from the wrong side of the tracks chick who was a bad picker of men who either beat her or bailed on her. She was also a damn fine skater who won the 1991 U.S. National Championships by becoming the first American woman to ever land a triple axel in competition. I praise Steven Rogers’ screenplay for pointing that out while admitting at the very start that his narrative is “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Harding and her former husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan)”. As it turns out, who you believe doesn’t really matter because the whole Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) clubbing incident is “what you came for anyway”. What’s more, the story is told with a darkly comic tone that’s perfectly suited for the kind of bizarre sports scandal where the truth was way stranger than what any fiction writer could have conjured up. The title character’s skating sequences are characterized by sharp jump editing that illustrates the ferocity and grace Harding brought to her sport. Robbie (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET), who’s incredibly attractive, “deglamourizes” herself and accurately portrays the rough edged skater as a sort of tragic Shakespearean figure whose potential greatness was brought down by the people who were supposed to lift her up as well as her penchant for making really bad decisions. Succeeding in those roles are Stan (CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR) and Allison Janney (JUNO) in a tour-de-force performance as Harding’s acid-tongued, chain-smoking sports mom from Hell. When we first see her with the strains of Cliff Richards’ “Devil Woman” playing in the background, we know exactly what we’re going to be getting from her. Even if we’re never certain whose account is truthful, it’s all the better to tell the story of a personality who still alternately repulses and fascinates us while she soared oh so briefly to great heights only to crash on her landing. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+
CLOSING CREDITS: After being banned in 1994 from skating, Harding remained in the spotlight for a variety of failed ventures. Later that same year, she and ex-husband Gillooly sold a sex tape of themselves to PENTHOUSE for a reported $400,000 (For those two???). Harding then tried her hand at singing but got booed off the stage at her first performance during a rendition of “Amazing Grace” probably marking the first time that a crowd yelled “You suck” at someone singing a religious hymn. She dabbled in pro wrestling and became a sort of curiousity on Fox’s “Celebrity Boxing” where she compiled a record of 3-3. Her bad luck with men continued in 2000 when she was arrested, convicted and served three days in jail for throwing a hubcap at her then-boyfriend Darren Silver’s face. Harding has consistently denied having any prior knowledge of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. But in a recent ABC interview with Amy Robach, Harding mentioned hearing conversations between Gillooly and “bodyguard” Shawn Eckhardt “talking about taking someone out so she can skate”. It was the first time she’s ever admitted knowing “something” about her ex-husband’s plot.