The Golden Globe Awards are on Sunday, January 7, 2018 and my quest to see all the nominated films is in full swing. I have already seen Lady Bird and The Shape of Water, and this weekend I saw I, Tonya. I don't know about you, but I was obsessed with figure skating when I was little. My mom, my sister and I used to watch all the competitions live on TV and every year we went to the exhibition at the Harvard ice rink called "An Evening with Champions." Needless to say, we were very into it.
I can clearly remember the media frenzy around the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, especially here in Massachusetts, since she is from here. It seemed like every day between the incident and the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, there was an update on Nancy or Tonya. The press couldn't get enough of this rivalry - the prim and proper ice princess vs. the trailer trash underdog. When I found out there was going to be a movie about these infamous events, I couldn't wait to see it.
Margot Robbie produced the film and stars as Tonya.
Interestingly, she had never heard of Tonya Harding until she read this script. In an interview with Deadline, Robbie shares, "I’m so grateful I knew nothing about it. Because when I entered this, Tonya for me was a completely clean slate. I know she wouldn’t be for most people because everyone seems to remember it. I’m so happy I didn’t know anything about the events or any of the people. I had never heard any of their names and I knew nothing about the figure skating world in general."
Though it seems impossible to imagine someone not knowing about Tonya and Nancy, Robbie grew up on the other side of the world in Australia and was only four years old at the time of the attack.
The film is shot like a documentary. In addition to showing the order of events, it also cuts to confessional-style interviews with Tonya, her mother LaVona and her husband Jeff Gillooly. The script was written by Steven Rogers, who also penned Stepmom, Hope Floats and P.S. I Love You.
At the start, young Tonya is played by Mckenna Grace, who I loved in Gifted. It's clear that from an early age Tonya had an incredible physical gift and also a serious attitude. I learned through the film that Tonya was abused by both her mother and Jeff, which was totally new information to me.
When Robbie takes over as teenage Tonya, it's amazing to see how much she studied the real Tonya's mannerisms, voice and most memorable skating routines. Some of the costumes look like exact replicas of the ones I saw on TV as a kid and I definitely remember that program she choreographed to ZZ Top. I also remember the commentators pointing out how no one could force Tonya into a traditional look or music selection.
To get Tonya's voice and Oregon accent just right, Robbie worked with a vocal coach. She also spent five months training with skating choregrapher Sarah Kawahara. After all, Tonya Harding was the first U.S. woman to ever land a triple axel. For more on her physical transformation to become Tonya, read this great piece in Vanity Fair.
I was majorly impressed by actor Sebastian Stan, who plays Tonya's husband Jeff Gillooly. Is it just me, or does Gillooly sound like the last name of the stupidest member of a mob family? I think part of the reason the media devoured him was because he had a name that sounded like it belonged to a clown. While watching the film, you realize how young Jeff and Tonya were when they first met.
He goes from a shy, awkward 17 year old, to a violent, controlling husband. Stan completely changed his tone of voice and speech patterns to match Gillooly's. At the end of the movie, when the credits roll, they play some real interview footage and it's shocking how accurately Sebastian imitated Jeff.
Paul Walter Hauser plays Shawn Eckhardt, Jeff's best friend and Tonya's bodyguard. He has all the funniest lines in the film, which actually don't seem that funny when you realize they were real.
The best performance in the movie is from Allison Janney, who plays Tonya's vicious mother, LaVona. In an interview with Refinery29, writer Steven Rogers confesses he wrote the part for Janney before he even asked her if she would be interested. He said, "I gambled on myself and wrote the script without financing to see if people would actually want it. And if they did, then I could have some caveats. The first caveat that I had was that Allison Janney was gonna play the part that I wrote for her [as Harding's mother]. I've known Allison for 100 years, so I wanted it in writing, or it was a dealbreaker. I did this before Allison had even read the script or said that she would do it!"
Janney portrays LaVona as selfish and cruel to the core. There is a scene where LaVona visits Tonya after the incident with Nancy Kerrigan. She pushes past all the news trucks on the front lawn to get to the door and visit her daughter. It seems like she is coming to offer a shoulder to cry on, but we later learn she had a tape recorded in her coat pocket, which she was planning to sell to the media. Even in her daughter's darkest hour, she was still out for herself. Janney is nominated for a Golden Globe for this role and she deserves it - for the physical transformation alone.
This entire movie was shot in 31 days. That is so incredible to me, given the complexity of the characters and their relationships, how many years the story covered and how genuinely it all came together on screen. The result is a film that shows you a completely different side of Tonya. Not the villain created in the media, but a young woman with a supreme gift and no emotional support in her life. She was ostracized, excluded and ultimately rejected from the only thing she ever really loved - skating.
If you grew up watching figure skating and followed the Tonya vs. Nancy feud as it was happening, you have to see this movie.