Margot Robbie Allison Janney McKenna Grace Sebastian Stan Caitlin Carver Paul Walter Hauser Julianne Nicholson
This film could fit into that category of “Truth is stranger than fiction.” If I weren’t so sad about the bad parenting and its disastrous effects, I could have giggled a lot about the ludicrous reasoning and lack of judgment used by so many of the characters. I did end up having more sympathy for Tonya Harding than I did at the time she was skating and this scandal broke out in the news, seeing (at least in the movie) first-hand how little positivity she got from her mother and few opportunities to learn sound judgment. Her two coaches seemed to be the only helpful people around her.
In brief, this is the story about a U.S. figure skater in the Olympics in the 1990’s, Tonya Harding (Robbie) who was the first woman to perform a triple axel in competition. It starts when she is four years old and her mother takes her to a skating rink wanting to show her off. The coach (Nicholson) tries to dismiss them, saying that she doesn’t coach beginning skaters who are four years old. The mother (Janney) brazenly continues to smoke a cigarette (against the rules), use the f-word, and later tells her daughter to go ahead and start skating. This is a perfect introduction to the kind of parenting Tonya received her whole life. But…the coach does in fact pick up on the child’s talent and begins coaching her.
The rest of the story is about the hardships Tonya encounters in navigating the figure-skating world (she doesn’t fit the “model” in dress or in behavior, and judges tend to be biased against her), trying to work through a destructive, abusive relationship with Jeff (Stan) (who sabotages her career at every turn), and managing to support herself while keeping up her training regimen. The value of the film is in shedding light on this particular story, but just as much, in its depiction of life for children in this country who grow up with few values and little education. As in Sean Baker’s current film, The Florida Project, we get a picture of what happens to children growing up in impoverished circumstances whose parents don’t have the slightest idea about how to nurture their children and build character with a good set of values; all of this is within a culture that has little sympathy or understanding of the problem.
In addition to the fine direction by Craig Gillespie and script by Steven Rogers, the acting is superb, with standouts being Margot Robbie as Tonya, Allison Janney as her mother, Sebastian Stan as her husband, and Hauser as her bodyguard. Accompanying music by Peter Nashel and cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis help make the picture come alive and command your attention.
A docudrama that elucidates the infamous story about Tonya Harding, a major figure skating competitor in the 1990’s.