They say that competition is healthy, but it can really bring out the worst in people. So much so that there’s actually a new version of the board game Monopoly – the Cheaters Edition – that encourages cheating to win. But even in this version, someone still has to lose, and presumably badly, so even trying to cheat doesn’t guarantee success, although certain politicians could argue otherwise.
Sports, of course, are competitive by definition, and regardless of their status, be it amateur or professional, you’ll always get sore losers. But rarely do you witness a professional sports person being embroiled in a plan to do physical harm to a fellow professional, to clear the path to Olympic glory. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the rink, Tonya Harding.
There were early indications that American Tonya Hardy (Margot Robbie) could really skate. At the remarkably young age of four, she was not only skating, but winning. But it was far from easy.
Her mother (Allison Janney) pushed her into the sport, quite literally, which is just one manifestation of her being abusive. She then meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) who she falls for. Big mistake. One of life’s serial losers, who just so happens knock her about too.
Despite all of this chaos around her, Tonya still manages to hold her shit together on the ice. So much so that she becomes the first US skater to perform a triple axel. Although her style is perceived by the judges to be unconventional, she still makes it into the US Olympic skating team, alongside her main rival Nancy Kerrigan.
But after some loose talk with Jeff, an idle threat towards her competition soon becomes a bizarre reality, leading to Tonya becoming one of the most hated figures in America.
With a scenario that seems too outrageous to be true, it’s a surprise this story from 1994 hasn’t had the big screen treatment until now. But with the winter Olympics in full flow, it should win a prize for perfect timing if nothing else.
Australian director Craig Gillespie, whose career to date has been fairy under the wire, gets the full spotlight treatment with this project. Yes the story is compelling, but Gillespie pulls out all the stops – or whatever the ice-skating equivalent is – by elevating what could easily have been a bog-standard movie-of-the-week, to something bold and in your face. Visually he plays with the screen size and quality, giving it an authentic retro look, as well as split screens and characters breaking the fourth wall. All used without feeling gimmicky. And then there are the performances.
It’s no wonder that both actresses have been Oscar nominated (Robbie – best actress, Janney – best supporting), with the pair definitely delivering PB’s. Janney in particular plays the part to perfection; a real-life panto villain who would only get a Best Mother award if she stole one. Both Stan and Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Harding’s bodyguard Shawn, also bring their A game and still manage to shine, despite steep competition from the women.
At two hours long, it does feel towards the end that I, Tonya spends a tad too long on the ice, but there’s no denying that it puts on an impressive display that deserves to score highly with the judges across the board.