Tonya Harding was well known as a champion figure skater, and as someone who would often come up against the “establishment” in figure skating – she was more rough around the edges, unlike the classically trained women in the sport prior to her arrival. An ‘incident’ prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics where her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was bashed in the knee by an assailant became the defining moment of Tonya’s career, for better or worse. The degree to which Tonya was involved in the incident has been widely disputed. This movie takes the story, and tells it in a ‘documentary’ style using interviews with the actors in character, as well as some fourth-wall breaking by characters during the scenes.
The story starts in 1970s Portland, Oregon where four year old ‘white trash’ Tonya is living with her abusive mother, LaVona, when her father leaves them. The only thing she is good at is figure skating, so her mother pulls her out of school and she begins to train with coach Diane Rawlinson. Tonya has incredible natural skill, and rises quickly through the ranks, but never quite reaches the top. Her homemade costumes, exceptionally difficult attitude, and questionable choice in performance music holds her back.
At 15, Tonya meets and starts dating 18 year old Jeff Gillooly. Despite LaVona being against the relationship – they eventually get married so that she can get away from her mother. In Tonya’s interviews, she states that Jeff started beating her right away, in his interviews, he denies that. Eventually, Tonya becomes the first female skater to complete a triple axel jump in competition. She has a falling out with her coach, who she fires, and moves on to coach Dody Teachman to prepare for the 1992 Winter Olympics. At the Olympics, rattled after attempting to leave Jeff, she misses most of her jumps and finishes fourth.
Distraught, Tonya heads home and becomes a waitress. Diane shows up to tell her that the Winter Olympics are shifting so that the Winter and Summer games will no longer be in the same year, so the next games are in 1994, instead of 1996, and she wants to train her. Tonya, reinvigorated, starts training. During a training session, she receives a death threat. Jeff, and his moronic friend Shawn Eckhardt, consire to hire two complete idiots to attack Nancy Kerrigan, thinking that will throw her off her game, and Tonya will have a better chance. Tonya seems to agree with the plan when she thinks it is just sending Kerrigan a ‘death threat’ in a letter format. Jeff also seems to think it is just letters – but the two idiots go after her with a metal baton, bashing her knee.
Eckhardt brags about the event, swiftly getting busted by the FBI – he blames Jeff, who claims he knew nothing about it, but is also questioned by the FBI. Tonya finally leaves Jeff for good – claiming she knew nothing about it, and having qualified for the Olympic team.
Tonya comes in 8th at the 1994 Olympics after some issues with her skate laces. Kerrigan wins the silver medal. Jeff, Eckhardt and the henchmen all get jail sentences, and Tonya gets booted from figure skating for life. Tonya becomes a professional boxer for a while, eventually remarrying and settling down with her son and husband.
The story is insane, even more so because it is true. I absolutely remember all of the ‘incident’ when it first happened and the incredible scandal it caused in the community. This movie manages to be funny and creepy at the same time. It does have a strange problem in that all of the characters are horrible, so there’s no “hero” to the story. The movie tries to get Tonya some redemption, but it fails because she is complicit with the attack plan on Nancy – even if she claims she only knew about letters, and refuses to acknowledge any blame. I enjoyed the fake documentary style – and I was grateful that they included some of the real interviews over the end credits.
- Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding, and did train for four months to do as much of the skating as she could. However, the skating scenes are a little off, because you can tell when it’s not her, but overall, she does an amazing job of giving some humanity to this person who everyone has written off as a media creation.
- Sebastian Stan plays Jeff Gillooly, who in the interview portions presents himself as calm, collected, and misrepresented. In the scenes based on Tonya’s interviews, he’s a violent and angry loose cannon who blames her for everything and beats her for no reason. It’s a difficult role, and he plays both sides in a creepily good fashion.
- Paul Walter Hauser plays Shawn Eckhardt, and he is irritatingly hilarious. He has somehow convinced himself that he is an internationally-trained special operative and bodyguard. He’s the “brains” behind the plan, and by brains, I definitely mean lack-thereof.
- Allison Janney plays LaVona Fay Golden, and she is exceptionally horrible. She treats Tonya terribly, all the way through to the very end. Even the one moment of niceness she has turns out to be trying to take advantage of Tonya for a story. It’s a great role for Janney, and she does an amazing job.
- Julianne Nicholson plays Diane Rawlinson, and does an amazing job of trying to simply be a calm trainer at the center of Tonya’s storm. She is really interesting as someone who does believe in Tonya’s skating skill and wanting to help that come to the forefront.
- Caitlin Carver plays Nancy Kerrigan – she has very little to do as this story is not really about her, just about events that happen around her.
- Bojana Novakovic plays Dody Teachman, Tonya’s second coach, the movie spends very little time with her, and she disappears when Diane comes back into Tonya’s life.
- Bobby Cannavale plays martin Maddox – a Hard Copy producer – who seems to have all the details that the characters cannot provide. His hair cracked me up – I’m sure it is true to the character, but it’s hilarious.
Overall, the movie was entertaining, and perplexing – in a good way, if that makes sense. Every character is completely despicable, but I really enjoyed the interview style, as it allowed each character to have a difference viewpoint of the situation.
6 out of 10 – interesting, and well done with some great performances, but left me with the same creeped-out feeling I get when I watch anything in which I hate every character.
Bonus – Cast Interviews: