Tonya Harding and her then husband Jeff Gillooly are names that everyone of a certain age will know, particularly if you are American, or where in American around the time.
Tonya Harding was a competitive ice skater, rising through the US championships, with her sites set on the Olympics and the gold medal. She was famous for being one of the few people to complete the triple axel and the first to complete two triple axels in a single competition.
There was just a slight problem. The people behind the US ice skating championships didn’t want someone of Harding’s background being a champion, they certainly didn’t want her at the Olympics representing her country.
You see Harding was, by her own admission, a redneck. She was from a poor family who couldn’t afford to spend thousands of pounds on outfits and didn’t have an ice skating background.
Instead Harding’s mum made most of her outfits and the music she skated to was heavy metal and rock, definitely not conventional. So, despite often out-skating others around her, she was struggling to win, struggling to gain the advantage.
Despite this, she rose through the ranks and was eventually given her shot at the Olympics, where she finished fourth and thought her career was at an end. Luckily for her, the Olympic committee decided to hold the 1994 Olympics just two years after the previous one, providing Harding with her chance again.
However, leading up to the ’94 Olympics fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan is attacked and almost has her leg broken. It transpires that the man responsible, Shane Slant, was hired by Gillooly and Harding’s bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt, but it’s not clear how much Harding knew, less so after you’ve seen the film.
The script, by Steven Rogers (Hope Floats, Stepmom), is wonderful. It’s wickedly funny and, whilst it would have been easy to poke fun at these people, Rogers doesn’t need to as they’ve managed it themselves. He allows them the freedom to tell their version of this unbelievable story.
Craig Gillespie (Lars And The Real Girl, Fright Night) is the man behind the camera and he shoots with aplomb. There are some fantastic one-take shots, look out for the divorce scene, and the ice skating scenes are fast, fluid and the transitions between real and CGI are very well done and placed.
Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, The Big Short) plays Harding, and produces, and she has the woman down to a T. We get emotion, laughs, loves and the turmoil of Harding’s life, whilst Robbie, and others, regularly break the fourth wall.
Harding is a tough woman, brought up that way by her mother LaVona, Allison Janney (Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Minions). Janney plays this hard-nosed, drinking and smoking mother with amazing ease. The matter-of-factness of how she deals with things and people is picked up by Robbie, the apple not falling too far from the tree.
The story is interjected at points with interviews of Harding, her mother, Gillooly, Sebastian Stan (Logan Lucky, Captain America: Civil War), and Eckhardt, Paul Walter Hauser (Kingdom (TV), Super Troopers 2), portrayed sometime between ’94 and now.
This is fun, particularly when Harding interrupts other people talking, sometimes to discuss what their talking about, more often to go off-piste. You imagine it’s what Harding is like in real life.
Eckhardt is a strange character who seems to have convinced no-one but himself that he’s a trained secret service agent. The reality is he’s a loner who still lives at home with his parents. Hauser gives a great performance for this man who believes everything he says.
I, Tonya is a wonderfully funny and superbly performed, written and directed piece of work with a great soundtrack, one of the best for a while. For those of us who only know some of the story, it fills in the gaps and make what was already something out of a Hollywood film, even more so.
23rd February 2018
THE QUICK SELL
"Based on irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly" comes I, Tonya.