If you haven’t seen I, Tonya (screened at the Hop on February 25), then you must. Though the film was overlooked for an Oscar nomination for Best Film, two minutes into the complicated and darkly funny depiction of Tonya Harding’s real life, you are hooked. We all know the name Tonya Harding. However, few of us really remember the events of 1994, especially those of us born after that year. Prior to seeing the film, I always assumed Nancy Kerrigan suffered a permanent career-ending injury due to the course of events. Now I know this is not the case, and frankly I left the film empathizing with Tonya.
The whole cast of the film is amazing, but Margot Robbie and Allison Janney stand out, receiving Oscar nominations for their roles. As Harding, Robbie commands the room. Her manner of speaking and comfort with a cigarette convince us she is truly an uneducated, as she puts it, “redneck.” Janney, who plays Harding’s frightful mother, provides a sick sort of comic relief in almost every scene. The two create a jarring picture of realities far too common in parts of the country that are poor and lack educational resources. Their mother-daughter relationship is disturbing as it is consumes the audience entirely, and we will have to see if they win the Oscars over the mother-daughter duo in Lady Bird. The film alternates between a third-person, outsider perspective and the multiple perspectives of the main characters in the story. Through this unconventional format the audience is able to separate parts of the narrative that are proven true from personal accounts of events. This style of storytellingstrengthens the film as it often buffers the audience’s reaction to scarring events in Tonya’s past. Without the interviews, the narrative of the film would feel far more inherently biased. While Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, sit on a divided screen making different but similar claims, a profound sense of irony comes over the audience. The acting and unique approach to narrative make the film a must-see, whether or not you actually appreciate figure skating.
Finally, the timing of the film could not be more perfect. Women were the people of 2017, and as women rally to change the future, Harding’s story provides yet another sobering view of reality. She does not claim to be faultless in the interviews the film is based on, and there are numerous instances in which her own actions hampered her success, but her life story brings light to the realities of domestic violence and sexism, which are still very present in America today. It is my hope that, with this film, Harding feels the story of her life is no longer a running joke and America no longer treats it as such either.