Not only will [I, Tonya] make you think about Tonya Harding again, it will make you do so with unexpected sympathy. Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com, reviewing I, Tonya
Although not every critic is fond of Craig Gillespie‘s I,Tonya, the reviews definitely skew highward, currently a 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Much praise goes to Margot Robbie in the lead as well as to the supporting characters, including Allison Janney as Tonya’s cold, cruel mother.
The infamous Tonya Harding-related “Incident” against Nancy Kerrigan is presented in the film in light of Harding’s own victimization: from childhood abuse to marital abuse to classism to news media bias.
Leah Greenblatt (ew.com) sets up the story line:
In a sport of princesses, Tonya Harding was the perpetual toad: a trashy, too-brash outsider whose mind-blowing axels and sheer athleticism could never quite make up for the fact that she didn’t fit the demure, spangled mold of an ideal figure skater. Raised but hardly nurtured by a chain-smoking waitress (Allison Janney, a viper in Tootsie glasses and a mushroom-cap haircut), Tonya steadily clawed her way up the junior ranks, thanks mostly to pure willpower and the proxy parenting of a coach (Julianne Nicholson) who tried her best to steer her wild-card charge. What set Harding’s destiny, though, was the arrival of Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), the dim-bulb paramour and protector whose wonky scheme to take down his wife’s rival Nancy Kerrigan would go down in Olympics infamy.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “It’s framed as a fake documentary (it opens with the characters being interviewed 20 years later), and it has a tone of poker-faced goofball Americana that suggests a biopic made by the Coen brothers.”
Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “…[Gillespie has] made a movie that’s affectionately mocking—of this theatrical sport, of the idiots who surrounded Harding, of this hideous moment in fashion and pop culture—without actually mocking Harding herself.”
But the intermittent humor isn’t received well by all critics. Richard Brody, New Yorker, for instance, sees “empathy…mixed with condescension; much of the movie’s bluff comedy mocks the tone and the actions of Tonya and her milieu.” And Manohla Dargis, New York Times, titles her review “‘I, Tonya.’ I, Punching Bag. I, Punch Line.”
I’m mixed on this myself. The humorous tone, though sometimes a helpful relief, wasn’t always enough to offset the disturbing effects of physical and emotional abuse continually being heaped on Harding.
How much of I, Tonya is truth? April Wolfe, Village Voice: “Gillespie doesn’t pretend to be definitive. Instead, he spins the tragedy of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan into a searing indictment of America’s obsession with ‘America’ and the ways that public opinion can be irreparably warped by sensationalist news media.”
Our images of both skaters have largely derived, notes Inkoo Kang, Slate, from that kind of media, which “remade the polished, graceful Kerrigan into a ‘princess’ and the brassy, unvarnished Harding into a ‘pile of crap’.”
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service, offers this apt summary:
Toward the end…our heroine…drawls flatly: ‘The haters always say, Tonya, tell the truth. There’s no such thing as truth.’
Throughout the film, Rogers’ screenplay reminds us it’s not just ‘I, Tonya,’ but ‘We, Tonya.’ She endures years of abuse to make it to the top, but fame becomes her plight…In possibly the most searing indictment, Tonya, during an interview segment, looks directly into the camera and says, ‘It was like being abused all over again. Only this time it was by you … you’re all my attackers too.’
Watch the trailer below: