I started figure skating when I was six. My aunt was a competitive skater who became an instructor. Figure skating became a big part of my childhood and while competition appealed to me, I wasn’t devoted enough to make it my whole life. The biggest scandal to hit figure skating was the attack against Nancy Kerrigan and how much Tonya Harding knew about the attack beforehand. I had I, Tonya on my watchlist for a while and last weekend I decided to finally watch it. I, Tonya is an intriguing biopic about Tonya Harding’s life while also bringing up various themes such as classism in skating.
Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie) was thrown into lessons at a young age by her mother, LaVona Golden (played by Allison Janney). LaVona is shown early on to be both physically and mentally abusive on multiple occasions while LaVona only admits to hitting Tonya once. Tonya’s father moves out, and Tonya is struggling to live under her mother’s roof. She meets Jeff Gillooly (played by Sebastian Stan) who provides enough charm and wit to bloom Tonya’s self-confidence. As Tonya moves out with Jeff, she soon finds that he is also abusive. Tonya, still trying to skate, is suffering from poor scores due to the judges thinking of her as “white trash” and not the best representative for competitive figure skating. As Tonya’s relationship with Jeff is explored, it’s shown how a simple death threat idea somehow escalated into the infamous knee blow with Nancy screaming “why why why”.
The acting in this was phenomenal. Allison Janney won a well-deserved Oscar for her performance in this. Each actor was invested in the role they were portraying. I became enthralled in the story as there was a lot I didn’t know about Tonya’s life before watching this film.
While this film does offer a lens of sympathy for Tonya, it exposes Tonya’s flaws as well. Tonya states several times, “it’s not my fault”. While Tonya grew up poor in an abusive environment, it also seems she blames everyone for her problems. It’s the judge’s fault she scores the way she does and it’s Jeff’s fault for planning the death threat, however, Tonya seemed on-board with the death threat if it meant succeeding in skating. This film easily could have been on Tonya’s side for everything, but I like the way this film provided a sense of balance. It lets the viewer know how rough Tonya’s upbringing was, but also reflects on how this upbringing made Tonya a flawed human being.
Another interesting aspect of the film was the idea of classism. Tonya was poor and her mother had to sew her costumes for her competitions. Figure skating and hockey are two of the most expensive sports to play. There’s the figure skates, costumes, ice shows, the lessons, the accessories for skating, etc. I did research Nancy Kerrigan before writing this, and while Nancy’s father struggled to pay for lessons, she also had private lessons at a young age. Additionally, once a figure skater becomes competitive, it’s all about the marketing deals. I remember Michelle Kwan was advertised on everything! She became this sweet, young, woman who was someone to look up to. Tonya was looked at as an outsider with a rough family background. I wonder if Tonya grew up rich, would her story be different?
I, Tonya was everything I wanted from a biopic. It discusses Tonya’s life, makes an interesting commentary on various societal themes, and had incredible acting from start to finish.