Melting Ice Castles: A Review Of I, Tonya
This is not a fairy tale set in the ice rink. This is no Ice Castles, Frozen, or The Cutting Edge. But like a fairy tale, I, Tonya does have a witch - and it's the mother of Tonya Harding, LaVonda Golden! Recounting the life of Tonya Harding, up to the Winter Olympics of 1994, and including the watershed infamous scandal - the attack on the knee of Tonya's major rival as supreme US figure skater of the time, Nancy Kerrigan; this is a biopic that's stylized and at times, over the top, but illuminates and gifts us both with laughs and sobering food for thought.
Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding
Allison Janney as LaVonda, Tonya's mother - who so far, has done a sweep of Best Supporting Actress at all the awards shows?
Steve Rogers' screenplay, and the deft direction of Craig Gillespie; along with some standout performances from Margot Robbie as Tonya and Allison Janney as LaVonda, make this all happen. The film treatment is pure black comedy, structured by our interviewing Tonya and her now ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) today, and discovering their versions of what happened in '94 are vastly different. With flashbacks that extend back to Tonya as a little girl, we sit back with our hands over our mouths, staring at disbelief, with how her mother's brand of parenting would rival Joan Crawford's Mommie Dearest. Bird-loving (only redeemable quality?), chain-smoking, swearing and cursing, and ever ready with a back slap or other forms of physical abuse, LaVonda (Allison Janney) is the Nightmare Mom we would not even wish on our worse enemy.
It comes as no surprise that Tonya runs to the arms of the first man who shows a speck of decency; not knowing that Jeff came from the same school of hard knocks that LaVonda graduated from with honors. As such, while played as a dark comedy, there are layers to this film that elevate it to social commentary. While not out to whitewash Tonya, there are questions raised about whether she could have been a 'victim of typewriter' - would the press have generated such a furor if the attack on Kerrigan been played as a dastardly plot hatched and carried out by Tonya's husband and her doofus bodyguard without her knowledge?
And this is serious stuff, as it's 24 years since the major events of the film happened, but Tonya still lives under a dark cloud, condemned by Sports History as a 'white trash' figure skater who had sheer athletic talent (in 1991, she was the first American skater to complete a triple axel in competition), but never 'belonged'. It's the complexity of this character that Margot Robbie brilliantly brings to life - and while much of the Awards talk centers on Janney as the mother, Robbie is also impressive as Tonya.
Unfortunately, it is an uneven film, not all layers are pulled off successfully - but it is never boring, and it is a fascinating study of ambition, of parenting, of memory, and of what we are left with when the ice has 'melted away'.