I, Tonya is a film full of domestic violence and appalling language. But it is also a film that we should see, just to remind ourselves of how not to behave, and how not to bring up children.
Skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was the bad girl/redneck of the elegant world of skating. She had huge talent as an athlete, but the odds were stacked against her as a person, and when she was convicted for involvement in an attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knee, the whole world knew about her and condemned her. The skating authorities imposed a lifetime ban, taking away from her the only thing she had in life.
I, Tonya is a mix of mockumentary and biopic, with main characters delivering monologues straight to camera, in between dramatic footage of Tonya’s life.
We meet her as a gorgeous three-year-old with her mum, LaVona (Allison Janney), and it’s painfully obvious that, from the beginning, Tonya didn’t have a chance to grow into a balanced human being with the values we like to instil in our own children.
LaVona was a struggling waitress who saw Tonya as her ticket to a better life, but the only mothering methods she knew were verbally and physically abusive, meaning Tonya grew up equating being valued with being hit. This is one of the most shocking aspects for the audience to come to grips with—a mother attacking her child seems incomprehensible.
As Tonya grows up, she falls for Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Things soon go from bad to worse, as he veers from a charmer to a manipulative and vicious wife beater in the blink of an eye.
There is one sympathetic character who genuinely cares for Tonya and is often by her side, coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson). I’m sure I’m not the only viewer who wondered how different Tonya’s life would have been had Nicholson brought her up.
Watching this film is not easy, but it does show the devastating impact that domestic violence has on a child and then the adult Tonya becomes.
At the end of the film there is fascinating footage of the real characters, and the film mirrors much of that most effectively. Stay on for the credits, when you will discover that, thankfully, there was a more positive future in store for Tonya Harding.
Highlight: Bravura performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney
Red flags: Shocking language and graphic domestic violence