Released in 2017. Written by Steven Rogers. Directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, & Allison Janney. Running time 1 hour 59 minutes.
Based on real people and events, the film begins with re-enactments of the interviews of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), Tonya’s mom LaVona (Allison Janney), Tonya’s husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya’s bodyguard Shawn Eckhart (Paul Walter Hauser), and her figure skating coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson). The interviews set up the contradicting points of view each person had of the following accounting of events…
Tonya is obsessed with figure skating at an early age, so her mom LaVona pushes the local coach Diane Rawlinson to take her daughter. At first, Diane refuses claiming Tonya is too young and her class is full but then sees Tonya skate and agrees to take her. Tonya shows throughout the early years of skating a natural talent of skating which fascinates people and she gains a following.
LaVona is quite the abusive mom–both physically and verbally–toward Tonya which she claims is what made Tonya so great as a skater. LaVona pushes her husband Al (Jason Davis) out of the picture which devastates Tonya even more because her father Al was the only good thing in her life besides skating. When Tonya is about 15, she’s practicing her skating when Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckart spot her. Jeff is smitten but shy and asks her out. LaVona accompanies them on their first date and Tonya and Jeff end up getting together.
Tonya continues to out skate her competitors but doesn’t get the high marks the other skaters do because Tonya is “lower class” with her outfits and song choices. Tonya butts heads with her coach and the judges over this numerous times in her career. Everyone agrees Tonya out skates everyone but doesn’t fit the mold the U.S. Figure Skating world wants to project.
Jeff and Tonya’s relationship continues to bloom but with a caveat. Jeff is just as abusive physically and verbally as LaVona. However, Tonya fights back and gives Jeff as much as she gets–most of the time. After an intense conversation with her mother, Tonya moves in with Jeff and eventually marries him–admittedly against her better judgement.
After another unsuccessful competition, Tonya fires her coach and hires coach Dody Teachman (Bojana Novakovic). It is at the next competition where Tonya shows the figure skating word she is the only woman to complete a triple axle. Tonya knows at this point, she is the greatest female figure skater in the world. She cannot go anywhere without the world watching after this.
Jeff and Tonya’s relationship becomes more abusive and Tonya leaves Jeff–temporarily. After they get back together, Tonya’s skating begins to falter and Tonya falls repeatedly plummeting her standings for the Olympics. Eventually, Jeff and Tonya get divorced after a major physical altercation involving a gun and restraining orders.
Tonya gets a job working as a waitress to make ends meet and Diane shows up to tell her the Olympics are now going every two years and she believes Tonya might have a shot if she’s willing. Tonya agrees to take her back as her coach and they work extra hard getting Tonya back in shape both on and off the ice. (She does the Rocky workout from his time in the woods…)
Tonya is ready to skate but is told by a rink official a death threat has been made against her causing Tonya to pull out of the competition. Jeff and Shawn use this as a way to sway Nancy Kerrigan from competing in the Olympics which they think will increase Tonya’s chances of placing higher.
Shawn takes the plan a step further when he hires a couple of guys Derrick (Anthony Reynolds) and Shane (Ricky Russert) to drive to the practice rink where Nancy skates and scare Nancy. Tonya is aware of the plan to send threatening letters but not the plan that actually occurs…
Derrick and Shane head to the practice rink where Shane takes a baton and whacks Nancy’s knee injuring her so badly, it prevents her from skating to qualify. The footage is shown on the news and Jeff screams at Shawn for taking the plan too far. Shane is found and arrested.
Tonya skates and qualifies for the Olympics and is questioned by the FBI and authorities regarding her involvement in the attack. Tonya and Jeff claim not to know anything about the attack. The authorities make their way to Shawn who blames Jeff for the plan.
Under the scrutiny of the press, the coverage of the attack, and enormous stress, Tonya skates at the Olympics and struggles due to a faulty skate lace which breaks while on ice. Tonya finishes in 8th place with Nancy taking 2nd. With the Olympics over, Tonya is charged with her involvement in the attack and goes to trial. Because she knew about the initial plan and didn’t come forth, she is charge with hindering prosecution and sentenced to three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a fine. She also banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life. Tonya pleads with the court saying skating is her life and she would rather go to jail than be banned from skating. The court holds their decision and Tonya is devastated.
Jeff gets 18 months in jail, but only serves 8 months, and eventually comes clean about Tonya not really knowing anything and feels responsible for ruining her career. LaVona and Tonya do not reconcile and still haven’t. Tonya goes on to a multitude of jobs and careers but eventually becomes a mother and wife and is very happy.
The film ends with actual footage of the real Tonya Harding skating and doing the triple axle.
What I Liked
They did a pretty good job with casting and I was fascinated by the ice skating scenes. While Margot Robbie has some skating experience, she is not this level skating– which proved to be difficult on a couple of levels. Apparently, only six other women can do the triple (besides Tonya) and none of them were doing it at the time of shooting. This meant the skating was perfectly edited and the triple was done by special visual effects.
I remember this event happening and wondering, what the heck? The media painted Tonya in a very bad light and in all the interviews I remember seeing back then, I knew she didn’t really have anything do with it. Why? This film supports that notion. Why would someone with such natural talent and amazing skating skill– no one denies her talent–stoop so low to whack Nancy with a baton when Tonya could’ve easily beat Nancy on the ice?
Everyone did an amazing job bringing these real life people back to life onscreen and it made me feel bad for Tonya. She never had a chance, did she? Allison Janney is superb as LaVona and Margot Robbie is fantastic as Tonya. I could watch them all day…
What I Wished Was Better
Nothing from the film. I think director Craig Gillespie did a great job bringing the story about in a way which wove the past and present together to help understand everything leading up to that moment and the after math.
From real life? While I think Tonya strangely benefited from her mom’s twisted way of encouragement and motivation; I often wondered throughout the film why her coach Diane NEVER offered or purchased a proper skating costume for Tonya after all the years together KNOWING it was one of the main obstacles for the judges. I mean, jeez, the poor girl kicked everyone’s ass on the ice–but off the ice—was everyone’s punching bag.
I have a great more respect for Tonya Harding after seeing this film. I had no idea of her home life and work ethic. No idea of the intense sabotaging from her mom, husband, and frankly–her coach for her demise. All she wanted to do was skate and show the world she was the best. All everyone else wanted was to keep her down. A great film. Available on Hulu and Amazon. Watch the trailer below:
Fun Facts: I, Tonya was shot in only 30 days. Margot Robbie has experience as a skater and trained extensively for the role but did not perform the triple. Robbie met with Tonya who offered her some skating tips; however, they never got a chance to skate together. Sarah Kawahara trained Robbie and was also Nancy Kerrigan’s choreographer.