Film offers a new take on figure skating scandal

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

I, Tonya
Opens Jan. 26

The first time I watched I, Tonya at TIFF I wasn’t impressed. As a biopic, it plays fast and loose with the facts and treats its subject, disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, with unearned sympathy. Then it hit me: a straight-up adaptation of Harding’s life would’ve been Hallmark Channel material.

I, Tonya is something else. It shatters the illusion the American Dream is available to everyone. In fact, the film states the opposite. No matter how talented you are, if you were born on the wrong side of the tracks, the road to success is not there for you.

The film follows the traditional steps of the biopic, with a twist: there’s a heightened sense of reality, with talking heads providing commentary. It’s like diving into Harding’s head (hence the constant self-justification).

Despite being the product of an abusive household, Tonya Harding (an extraordinary Margot Robbie) delivered — to this day, she’s one of the few female skaters to do a triple axel jump. But her toxic upbringing with her mother (Allison Janney, also superb) led to a combustible relationship with her first husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) who orchestrated the “hit” on arch rival Nancy Kerrigan.

Tough-as-nails, Tonya was never a favorite in the figure skating community. Her unpolished behavior and modest background didn’t match the image the US sport federation wanted to project. She wasn’t like, say, Nancy Kerrigan. The rest is tabloid history.

While often comedic, I, Tonya hits some very dark notes. Overall, the movie leaves you with a bitter aftertaste. Never mind that Harding is whitewashed to a degree, it’s undeniable she got a raw deal.

Even if you think you know everything about the Harding-Kerrigan affair, I, Tonya discovers a deeper truth, one US Weekly can’t begin to imagine.