I, Tonya is Uncanny in More Ways Than One

Release Date: December 8, 2017
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney
Director:  Craig Gillespie
Studio: LuckyChap Entertainment, Clubhouse Pictures, AI Film
Distributor: Neon
IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia

Spoilers: High (if you don’t already know the historical details of the Incident)

Rating:
There’s a Dark Knight quote that seemed appropriate for what this film tried to do: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” 

I, Tonya desperately tries to reverse the formula and recast its villain as the hero, with very little success.

After watching the trailer for this movie, I expected it to be much funnier than it actually was. I also didn’t expect it to depict a near-constant stream of domestic violence.

I would have really appreciated a heads-up that this movie was going to be centered around the toxic relationships Tonya Harding had with her abusive ex-husband and her manipulative show-mom. When Tonya wasn’t on the ice, she was almost always getting slapped by her mother and beat to shit by her romantic partner.

The movie exploits violence for shock value and for laughs. A few times, it even paints Tonya to be complicit in her own abuse, using her fourth-wall breaking, sassy commentary to give the audience permission to dismiss the abuse as ‘quirky’ and ‘funny,’ instead of ‘deeply troubling’ and ‘problematic.’

I came into the theater to see a darkly comedic take on the cutthroat drama surrounding Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. The movie recreates a set of interviews from all the characters involved in the plot to break Nancy Kerrigan’s leg so that she was unable to compete in the Olympics. The story follows Tonya Harding as she grows up in an abusive household, falls in with a collection of dumb, toxic people, and eventually gets expelled from the figure skating community.

The casting was perfect; Margot Robbie was flawless as the rough-spoken, red-necked Tonya Harding, while all the other actors matched their real-life counterparts seamlessly. The end credits showed the tapes with the real-life people who inspired the movie, and the resemblances to the actors were uncanny.

With all that being said, I really disliked this movie.

I didn’t like the plot. It left me feeling anxious and uncomfortable. That might be a little unfair to the movie because it was intended to be a dramatization of real-life events, but the emphasis on domestic violence permeated every potentially comedic or enjoyable aspect of the film.

Even if that was Tonya’s real-life experience, I felt betrayed as an audience member that the movie didn’t advertise itself as a dark drama. With some warning, I might have liked the movie better, or I would have avoided it altogether.

I think the real problem with this film is that it’s trying to recast the villain as the hero of her own story, but even though Tonya is a victim of her toxic relationships, we don’t end up rooting for her success. She’s an unsympathetic character, and very little about the film changes that perspective – there’s no growth, no change in character or in circumstances.

I, Tonya is a never-ending cycle of violence without triumph or redemption, and it’s completely demoralizing. I didn’t need to watch a theater of people laugh right after Margot Robbie pats makeup over her bruises after being tossed around like a straw doll – I am so thoroughly tired of depictions of violence against women being portrayed as ‘edgy’ and ‘revolutionary.’ Filmmakers should know better, and I’m sick of it.