The main topic of “I, Tonya” – a winking, eager-to-please, fictionalized gloss on the disgraced ice skater Tonya Harding – gets defaced a whole lot. As a child, she actually is degraded and smacked around by her mother, who kicks little Tonya’s chair so violently the kid flies off it. When the teenage Tonya gets involved with the man she will marry, her lifestyle as a punching handbag continues. Her husband smashes her mind onto a glass surface so hard that shards scatter; he bloodies her nose a few times. He also items a gun at Tonya, threatening to kill her. Despite all the beatings and bloodstream, “I, Tonya” insists it’s a comedy.
The real Tonya Harding went from fame to infamy in 1994, after she was implicated in an attack on Nancy Kerrigan, a rival. On Jan. 6, after practicing for america Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Ms. Kerrigan was attacked by a guy who thwacked her leg with a collapsible police baton. (He seems to have been choosing her knee.) A surveillance camera captured Ms. Kerrigan on the floor as she repeatedly wailed “Why?” Ms. Harding continued to win the championship; it was a short-lived victory. The F.B.I. was quickly questioning her, her ex-husband and their dumb-and-dumber associates. By June, Ms. Harding had been barred from competing on her behalf role in the attack.
Energetically directed by Craig Gillespie, “I, Tonya” charts the hard-won rise and calamitous fall of its title character (Margot Robbie). Taking the form of a mock, mocking documentary, the one that disjointedly swings between heehaw comedy and wincing agony, the movie establishes its raised-eyebrow tone with a subject card stating it’s “Based on irony-no cost, wildly contradictory and entirely authentic interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly,” her former husband. (The screenwriter, Steven Rogers, has said that he spoke with both.) From their separate corners, the middle-aged, long-divorced Tonya and Jeff (Sebastian Stan), provide linked, at times vividly contradictory accounts of what happened.
In one location, Jeff sits facing the camera in front of a huge window framed by photo-covered walls. There’s far more visual coding going on with Tonya, who’s plunked down at a desk in a modest kitchen putting on a pale jeans jacket and cowboy shoes or boots. Lank blond head of hair and bangs border her face; her neck has truly gone puffy. Looking into the camera, she once in a while draws on a cigarette and crosses her legs, one big, down-residence, country-gal ankle resting on a knee. The real eye-catchers are the dirty meals stacked in the sink behind her. They stay set and stay dirty, which seems curiously sloppy given that Tonya, a press veteran, is here now to tell her real truth. If you didn’t know she had a reputation as down-and-dirty, here’s a hint.
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As Tonya and Jeff offer up alternating stories, her past, her abuse and her triumphs come into view. The only child of an unhappily married couple, the fresh Tonya is normally a daddy’s girl. Her dad takes her hunting, educating her how exactly to shoot rabbit. Her awful mother, LaVona (Allison Janney, chilled and excellent), may be the one who arranges for Tonya to have lessons with a skating coach (Julianne Nicholson). Tonya turns out to be a prodigy and is normally quickly powering her way into the top echelon of the sport, despite the snobbery and visible distress of the judges who favor froufrou femininity over extreme competition. They want gliding princesses, certainly not grunting sportsmen like Tonya.