I, Tonya: The Making of an Image

Tonya Harding was an American figure skater who qualified for the Olympics in her sport in the 1980s and 1990s. Tonya was – by admission in the film – an uneducated ‘redneck’ from a poor family. She was a brash, foul-mouthed girl who had neither the cash, the style nor the inclination to conform to the ‘good American girl’ image her status as a champion skater demanded. An ‘incident’ in which a rival skater was attacked and seriously injured, added to Tonya’s infamy and led to severe consequences for Tonya’s career.

I, Tonya is Tonya’s story. And that of her husband’s. Her mother’s. And her coach’s. All these ‘versions of the truth’ are presented in a documentary style with mock interviews of the characters interspersing the action. The aim of the film may have been to create a more sympathetic image for Tonya. She was a brilliant skater – the only one of very, very few women who could do a move called the triple axel. And she did this despite a background that worked against her: a relentlessly hard mother, a low-class husband who hit her, and no education.

But what the film also does, importantly, is mock the press and the public’s acceptance of what is dished up to it. It highlights – and therefore questions – the unfairness of American society and what/who is deemed acceptable. Tonya is portrayed to some extent as a victim of her circumstances. The interviewees – including a self-proclaimed bodyguard and and secret agent – speak with irony, creating a sort of black comedy effect. The result is that the viewer is left wondering, not so much what the truth really is, but how society forms opinions and unfairly demands conformity.

Australian actress Margot Robbie is excellent in her role. She pulls off the hick, tough and graceless (only off the ice) Tonya really well. She even does a lot of the skating scenes herself. Alison Janney is likewise very good as LaVona Golden, Tonya’s harsh mother.

I, Tonya is really worthwhile viewing. It opens at Ster Kinekor cinemas in South Africa on 16 February 2018 and carries an age restriction of 16 for DLSV.

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