Tonya Harding always wanted fame and wanted to be a household name but not from being a criminal. She wanted to be known for her skills on the ice. She wanted the world to know she could perform one of the most difficult jumps on a pair of ice skates ever. At the time, she was the only woman to be able to perform, the nearly impossible to land triple axel jump. Only a few people had been able to master it when she discovered she could. The jump is well described in the film by a proud Tonya.
This film is shown in more of ‘mockumentary’ style, such as ‘Best in Show’ and ‘Spinal Tap.’ It bounces back and forth between showing you Tonya’s life, characters talking about ‘the incident’ and about Tonya herself who was played with measured empathy by Margot Robbie. To be honest, by the end of the film, you want to stand up and applaud Tonya for having made it through childhood.
Her trash mouthed, chain-smoking mother, LaVona Golden, is played remarkably and frighteningly well by Allison Janney. She was always frigid and never lovingly supportive, but don’t say that to her face. She was never going to be the parent of the year so Lavona embraced the challenge fully to see how bad she could be… or so it seems in the film. She put tiny Tonya on an ice rink when she was only four years of age.
An abused child, Tonya tried her best to please her mother but never really could. Her coach knew she was too young but did accept the child, however, acceptance only went so far. Being that LaVona worked as a waitress and didn’t have much of an income, Tonya was never fully welcomed in the ice-skating circles, not by the other skaters and certainly not by the judges who prefer the girls look like princesses and not paupers when they’re on the ice. Try as she might to get people to like her and grade her on her talent, not on her wardrobe, they never did. This rejection was something that followed Tonya from day one through her last day on the ice in competition.
LaVona treated her daughter with as little kindness as possible so that she got used to it. Life wasn’t going to be easy and she didn’t want her daughter to be weak and unable to handle anything that came her way, so instead of giving her words of encouragement in a loving manner, she emotionally injured her with words that pained and hurt her. Listening to her convey her thoughts about Tonya was uncomfortably amusing and Janney made the situation almost laughable; that a mother would speak such things of her daughter was unfathomable. Watching her treat Tonya so horribly through the years, in the flashback scenes, was shocking but not really funny.
Instead of making her tough, it made Tonya bitter and sent her into the arms of the first man who would have her, Jeff Gillooly (Stan), who was mentally and physically abusive, which was exactly what Tonya knew. Theirs is a volatile relationship, with bigger downs than ups, but he supports her dreams, as much as a narcissist can. When he gets violent enough to make her leave, he always sweet talks her into going back.
I don’t want to give away exactly how we find out Jeff is involved in the incident and how involved Tonya is in taking skater Nancy Kerrigan out of the picture for the Olympics, in case you don’t know. I will say that actor Paul Walter Hauser’s, Shawn Eckhardt, has to be one of the biggest boobs in the history of film, and you’ll love his character.
Watching this all play out, Jeff and his goons complete incompetence and inability to keep a story straight, is well worth the purchase price, as is all of the acting and the CGI involved in creating the jumps. There’s not much you won’t like about the film.
It’s a tragic story presented as a comedy much like Tonya’s life itself. In the end, she didn’t like being famous. In the end, she was a punchline. The deck was always stacked against her… she never stood a chance.
*Stay at the end for some real footage.