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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

I, Tonya

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuDQOMICfr0

When I saw the trailer, I tried to remember the victim in the infamous knee-capping incident at the 1994 US trials for the Winter Olympics. Everybody knows Tonya Harding, the ‘villain’ in the piece, but the other girl’s name is lost to all but trivia buffs. ‘The Devil gets the best tunes’, as they say, so it’s Tonya who captured and maintains the imagination of a scandal-hungry public. The buzz in Oz, of course, is all about local actress Margot Robbie’s nomination for an Oscar – and she is sensational. But credit is also due to her fellow countryman, director Craig Gillespie, who has fashioned from the incident a compelling, at times disturbingly funny and entirely non-judgmental movie (if anything, it is sympathetic to Tonya). A caveat at the beginning, advising that the film has been based on unreliable, contradictory sources, provides a helpful overview of the array of brassy, conniving, ill-tempered and downright weird characters whose self-interest and ambition led to the fiasco. As a child prodigy, Tonya was bullied and cajoled into pursuing a career on the ice by her divorced mother (Allison Janney), before falling into an abusive marriage with the man who would become her obsessive manager, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Tonya is seen to be no shrinking violet, as she doggedly strives for excellence and the wonder drug to which America is hopelessly addicted – fame. It was when her main rival, Nancy Kerrigan, had her knee shattered by a hired assailant that Tonya’s name hit the world’s headlines. It is also at this point that the movie gets into its stride, for the preamble is little more than a ‘getting to know’ all the players, often through them speaking disingenuously to camera. And this is where Robbie is so good – do we like Tonya or not? Is she a self-pitying victim or a single-minded manipulator? What exactly DID she know about the crude plot to bring down Kerrigan? The American Dream may be terminally soured, but it cannot detract from the breathtaking skill of Harding the skater, seen as the credits roll.


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