Is it any good?
I loved the heck out of this movie! It’s so bold and curious and well made and well acted and just really good. It’s a nostalgia trip that illuminates the people in ice skating in the 90s and asks us to examine who we are and our relationship with the famous people we love and hate. It’s about the cycle of poverty and dedication to sports and the uneasy relationship between fame and media and how we treat our Olympians.
You know about the incident, right? Nancy Kerrigan got hit in her kneecap by people associated with Tonya Harding’s camp. But who was Tonya Harding? Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding in a biopic about her skating life and her personal life and the struggle to get to the top. It’s about a poor white trash skater who fought for everything she got and failed at it most of the time. All the while surrounded by an abusive mother played by Alison Janney and an abusive husband played by Sebastian Stan and an incomprehensible idiot of a bodyguard.
Margot Robbie does an AMAZING job as Tonya Harding. She’s a wee bit old to play Tonya from 15 and up, but she’s so talented and beautiful that you just kinda forget. She struggles a little with Tonya Harding’s specific dialect, but she puts SO much into this performance. There are a number of scenes that expose Harding’s utter vulnerability beneath her hard exterior. She captures this devastation so well.
Sebastian Stan matches her, actually. He plays the beta male abusive husband Jeff Gilooly. And he is just as amazing. We hate and love him in the much the same way as Tonya did. He seems sweet when he isn’t utterly vicious. And Stan makes you believe him as both the meek AND angry Jeff. Even though I love him as Bucky Barnes in the Captain America movies, I was surprised at the extent of his range and abilities. He finally got a chance to do something more and he hit it out of the park.
Alison Janney is also great as the abusive mother. She is just soooooo annoying. You keep wanting a single genuine moment from her for the sake of her child, but she’s so entertaining as the hard as nails Lavona.
But really what amazed me about the movie was how introspective and intelligent it was about its subject matter. This could have simply been an exploitative movie, but it resisted turning its leads into caricatures. It indicts its audience and society about what we do to people like Harding. People who are poor. People who are abused and abusive. People who are so utterly broken. But they each deserve dignity as part of the human race. Even as they plotted to kneecap a competitor, they deserve their due. Tonya Harding isn’t what you think of her. She isn’t simple. She’s a complex person with an interior life that deserves being explored. Everything is more nuanced than we are willing to give it credit for. The media gives us bits and bites and satisfying narratives about good and evil, but it’s never that simple. Never.
It’s accusatory too. WE did this. It wasn’t the guy with the baton. It wasn’t Jeff Gilooly or Shawn Eckardt. It wasn’t Tonya Harding. We are all culpable. We wanted to see that happen. We wanted Tonya to succeed AND fail at the same time.
I liked Tonya Harding growing up. I thought she was much prettier than Nancy Kerrigan and insanely talented. But I learned in this movie that even while I may not have liked her personally, she is completely deserving of my time and attention and, most of all, compassion. This is just a great movie.