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  • Fiona Prior

I, Tonya

I, Tonya

Directed by Craig Gillespie

I seem to be watching really black comedy lately or pseudo biopics of people and their movie-worthy 15 to 524,160 minutes of fame. I, Tonya is both. It encapsulates the worst clichéd characteristics of that demographic Hillary Clinton unwisely labelled ‘the deplorables’ and is based around the brutal kneecapping of young skater, Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. Tonya Harding was the figure-skater accused of motivating the attack. The extent of her involvement is still shrouded in mystery.

On a larger canvas, I, Tonya illustrates the voyeuristic focus of the press that only moved its cameras from the train wreck of Tonya’s life and career when another notorious ‘incident’ – the O.J. Simson case – usurped the international scrutiny of Harding. Black celebrity as murderer was more compelling than white trash violence, it seems.

Tonya (played by Australia’s Margot Robbie) came from a dirt poor and violent background. Her father had left her in the care of her brutal mother (played deadpan awful by Allison Janney). Tonya met Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) at 15, they dated regularly and he regularly beat her up. Despite this Tonya married him, the film implying that the marriage was more to escape her mother than for love of the violent and stupid boy.

Unfortunately, on top of these misfortunes, Tonya was not going to achieve the accolades to which she aspired. The US Figure Skating Association took its image very seriously and Tonya’s rough and uneducated background was not an image they would support. Though at one point the greatest female ice-skater in the world, Tonya was constantly judged down on her presentation, and – to make matters worse – she was audacious enough to call the judges out on this injustice. Were Tonya born a couple of decades later she would probably have her own reality television program, a 'Honey Boo on skates' or some such thing.

Look out for husband’s best friend – Tonya’s body guard – the obese Shawn Eckhardt (played by Paul Walter Hauser). Not just an idiot but also completely mad, Eckhardt to this day insists he is an international underworld spy. Eckhardt was critical in escalating an ill-advised attempt to psychologically put Nancy Kerrigan off her game to the knee smashing incident that ended Tonya Harding's career forever.

Thought provoking and hilarious, the tragedy of I, Tonya’s portrayal of inter-generational ignorance and poverty will stay with you.

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