What Goes Up Must Come Down

I, Tonya
Stars: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser. Julianne Nicholson  and Caitlin Carver
Director: Craig Gillespie
Scriptwriter: Steven Rogers
Composer: Peter Nashel
Cinematography: Nicholas Karakatsanis
Neon Films
Rating: R for violence and profanity
Running Length: 120 Minutes

Director Craig Gillespie has put together quite a film in telling the story of  Portland, Oregon’s Tonya Harding, former champion ice skater. This is a mix of biopic and comic book. The word “dysfunctional” gets a few new meanings and the word “mother” is held up for examination. Margot Robbie does Tonya Harding well, as far as physical appearance and some of the ice skating. A triple rotation would take a lifetime to achieve. Allison Janney’s depiction of LaVona, Tonya’s mother, is that of a Field Marshall with a cigarette. This woman lived her life as being on a battlefield---everyone else was the enemy.

The story is told in flashbacks from the time Tonya is three years old and declares that she wants to ice skate. Clearly, she has athletic ability and Mom (Dad is absent) works as a waitress to get funds for training, and even sews some of Tonya’s first outdated costumes. Tonya begins winning competitions and needs a special coach, so enter Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), who becomes a mentor to Tonya through the years. The use of profanity as every day speech is rampant in the film, and Tonya has no one as a positive role model, so becomes a shadow of her mother, in some behaviors and attitude. Though she dislikes her Mom, there is a hidden bond there. Another person in Tonya’s life is her boyfriend-later husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) who seems a hero to Tonya at first, only for her to discover he is jealous, possessive and  abusive. The police seem to live at their address.

As Tonya progresses through the skating ranks to the top, her chief rival is Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) and though little is seen of their friendship, the tabloids tell all about the attack on Kerrigan before a major competition. From here on, there are two sides of the story. One is then-husband Jeff who hires a bodyguard (hilariously played by Paul Walter Hauser) to keep Kerrigan out of a competition. The bodyguard then hires someone else to do the job and from then on, it is like a SNL skit. Example: don’t park the getaway car in front of the main entrance so everyone can see it and get a license number. There is the “hit,” and Tonya ends up getting booted out of competiton and forever banned from competitive skating. She claims she didn’t know what was going on, and each person has a different story. The audience can make up their own minds on this one. For someone who is clearly on top, to have to resort to this, is unreasonable, but you can’t control those in your group who have their own opinions on how life should go. The three-year-old who declared to her stoic Mom that she wanted to be an ice skater did not know  the slippery road that would take.

The skating footage is excellent and whether you ever followed competitive figure skating or not, you can get caught up in costumes, music, attitude and jumps. Skaters  are athletes and train as hard as ball players. Robbie did some of the skating, and the intermingling of footage is smooth.  What Harding endured during her marriage is that of the abused wife with no self esteem and no where to go, so you go back to the abuser. What secrets there are behind closed doors.

Margot Robbie gives the audience the harsh look of Tonya Harding, with a determined jaw and fearless attitude on the ice. It is Allison Janney as the mother, who walks the line between comic and tragic. Is there a worthwhile bone in her body? Sebastian Stan’s Jeff looks gentle at first, but you can see the possessiveness slowly build as he feels inadequate in Tonya’s wake and doesn’t know what to do about. It is as though his mind---and the minds of his friends---shut down at age thirteen and just stayed that way. The shining light is the first coach, but it doesn’t shine in Tonya’s life often enough.

The setting of the 1980-1990 period is good with cars, music, costumes, news events, etc. Trailer parks look the same, little cafes look the same, and blue jeans and bomber-style jackets look the same. So, why was this film made? Tonya Harding has never actually been out of the news since “the incident.” Tonya wanted fame, not this way---but it is there and the public is right there to observe.

The release of this film now is apropos as the Winter Olympics are to be in South Korea in 2018 and figure skating will be a top event. The young skaters of today can look back on what went on in the 1990’s and see if things have changed...or not. Where there is a will, there is a way....and that way may not be straight and smooth.

Copyright 2018 Marie Asner