“There’s no such thing as truth. Everyone has their own truth.”
The name Tonya Harding has come to elicit two different reactions: either awe for the world-renowned figure skater, or contempt towards the disgraced celebrity who ruined her own career. I, Tonya tells Harding’s side of the story — an important account that not everyone wants to hear. Poignantly told in this phenomenal biopic, Harding’s narrative leaves you on edge from the moment she steps onto the ice, and until she steps off.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the strong cast, I frankly hated every character in this movie. I initially doubted Margot Robbie’s acting, but her performance as Harding blew me away, making me hate her yet sympathize with her pain. Allison Janney gives an eye-popping performance as Harding’s extremely abusive mother, LaVona Golden, and Sebastian Stan provides an equally jarring character in Harding’s also abusive husband, Jeff Gillooly. Both actors gracefully switch between destruction and vulnerability, making you simultaneously despise and commiserate with the two people who played the largest roles in bringing Harding down, but who also loved her the most.
On top of its cast, I, Tonya uses music, costume, and set design to transport you through the decades of this story. The soundtrack mostly consists of classic rock anthems, including ZZ Top’s “Sleeping Bag” (which was actually used in Harding’s routines) and Heart’s “Barracuda.” The music provides a pumping heartbeat to the gracefully directed film that weaves together scenes occasionally told from Harding and Gillooly’s contradictory perspectives, with the two characters often breaking the fourth wall to tell you so. In his direction, Craig Gillespie stays faithful to the time, dressing the cast in vibrant and nostalgic costumes which, paired with the music, create a distinct aesthetic for each decade in which the story takes place: the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
Praise aside, I, Tonya does fall short in one regard: the movie has sparked controversy as viewers, film critics, and even those involved in Harding’s life question its narrative accuracy. Harding plays the blameless victim in her version of the truth, claiming that her husband’s meddling ruined her career. But her perspective can sometimes be hard to believe, making the film frustrating to watch as the plot unfolds.
Regardless of whose side of the story you believe, I, Tonya sheds light on the price of fame and passion, and how this price evolved and ultimately ruined Harding — a star once adored by the nation. While I’m still uncertain if I believe Harding, the film’s themes of persistence and resilience are balanced with crass comedy that keeps you wondering what’s fact and what’s fiction. Wildly entertaining and unflinchingly brash, I, Tonya does not disappoint in telling someone’s truth.