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Loving hating Tonya Harding

  • 21 February 2018


I, Tonya (MA). Director: Craig Gillespie. Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale. 119 minutes

Any Australian who'd own up to watching Neighbours during the late noughties (hey, we all need to rest our brains from time to time) may have felt a pang of pride in recent years at seeing Ramsay Street alumnus Margot Robbie's ascent to the heights of acclaimed Hollywood lead.

True, there's a touch of uncanny-valley in seeing her face awkwardly superimposed onto the body of a stunt double as she portrays former US figure skater Tonya Harding in action. But it doesn't diminish her skill in bringing to the screen this bizarre, emotionally charged true(ish) story.

Fellow Australian Gillespie has made a compelling mishmash of the saga, acknowledging via introductory title card that the film is based on 'unironic' and 'contradictory' testimony by the key players.

He combines mockumentary style talking heads with fourth-wall-breaking recreations of the events leading up to, and following, the kneecapping of Harding's skating archrival Nancy Kerrigan weeks prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics. As a film it is both shocking and hilarious, though if you're looking for concrete answers, you're looking in the wrong place.

What Gillespie gives us instead is a portrait of a sympathetic antihero, exquisitely rendered by Robbie, whose rough and 'redneck' manner (her word) stands in contrast to her profound abilities, and at odds with the gentility of her chosen sport.

Her farcical mantra 'It wasn't my fault' whenever things go wrong is given weight by a portrayal of serial abuse: by Harding's mother (Janney), and Harding's husband Jeff Gillooly (Stan), who helped plan 'the incident' that earned Harding the wrath of the tabloids and put her career on ice.


"Explicitly, I, Tonya puts the viewer in the role of voyeuristic tabloid readers who need someone to hate as much as they need someone to love."


The abusers are not limited to those who knew Harding intimately. Explicitly, I, Tonya (for which Robbie served as a producer as well as star) puts the viewer in the role of voyeuristic tabloid readers; of celebrity-hungry 'Americans' (easily transposed as all western consumers of news media) who need someone to hate as much as they need someone to love.

Gold Coast raised Robbie displays a knack for morphing her sunny surfer-girl looks into grimaces of fury or devastating self-loathing, in defiance of her (and Harding's) audience's scandal-hungry gaze.

The film places front and centre