To be perfectly honest, I had only the vaguest background knowledge on the infamous Tonya Harding scandal before I saw this film. I knew that the affair had something to do with competitive skating and foul play, but was ignorant of the details. I came across a recent New York Times interview with Mrs. Harding Price, which is what piqued my initial interest in the film.
I wasn’t sure of what to expect. If anything, I anticipated a sober, first-person account of the events surrounding “The Incident” (as the scandal is referred to in the film). However, the audience received a quirky, almost playful set of mock-interviews from the actors portraying different figures in Tonya’s life, from her ex-husband to her mother (think: Emperor’s New Groove- esque). There is dark humor prevalent in this film, sardonic and bitter, which draws the viewer into Tonya’s backstory, from her first encounter with the ice rink as a three year old. The dark comedy extends to make the people in Tonya’s life, from her abusive mother to her abusive ex-husband, more human.
Tonya Harding led a difficult life. From a childhood devoid of parental affection to a violent and toxic relationship with her ex-husband, all she really longs for is to be loved. In fact, later on in the film, after completing her famous triple-axel, she relishes the cheers of the audience, reveling in how finally, she feels loved and adored. In almost every aspect of her life, Tonya is denied of a concrete expression of validation from the people in her life, and this makes her beaming response to her achievement hard to watch.
In many ways, I, Tonya is a film about classism. From her early years on the ice, Tonya struggled fiercely with her background as a child from a poor, working-class background in the world of figure skating, which nearly requires skaters to exude airs of luxury, to be princess-like in speech, manner, and dress. Tonya’s unconventional music choices for her routines, as well as her hand-made skating outfits, branded her as an outcast, a label she worked hard to overcome. However, the film is also about love and violence, and how the two coincide.
This film has caused me to view Tonya Harding in a more sympathetic light. Without spoiling some of the best scenes in the film, I would like to point out that while her role in The Incident is true, it does not stop me from empathizing with her and everything she has been through. Margot Robbie did a fantastic job portraying Tonya Harding, and I found myself laughing, weeping, and wincing, sometimes all at once.
I, Tonya will be screened at State Theater until January 18. Student tickets are $7 and can be purchased here.
Image credit: Rolling Stone