‘I, Tonya’ is a different look at a famous moment in figure skating

Allison Janney in ‘I, Tonya’

“Half of figure skating is opinion, convincing judges” – Scott Hamilton who won a gold medal in figure skating at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games

“Look, I’m sorry but when the CIA wants to learn new dirty tricks they observe figure skaters and their moms” – Kim Cattrall as “Tina Harwood” in the film Ice Princess

On January 6, 1994, figure skater Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver – Rules Don’t Apply) was attacked after a practice session prior to the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit.  Hopefully that isn’t a spoiler for anyone.  The film I, Tonya from director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours) tells the story of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie – The Wolf of Wall Street), her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan – Logan Lucky) and Jeff’s friend Shawn Eckhard (Paul Walter Hauser), before and after the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.

We see the origins of Tonya’s career as a skater, with her mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney – Liberal Arts) pushing her along.  Young Tonya (Mckenna Grace – Gifted) has amazing physical gifts but because she comes from the “wrong side of the tracks” her future in the sport is questionable.  Then she comes under the influence of figure skating coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson – August: Osage County).

Sebastian Shaw, Margot Robbie and Julianne Nicholson in ‘I, Tonya’

Tonya’s life is not easy.  Her mother is rude, crude and socially repugnant.  Her father Al (Jason Davis – Max) is a loving parent and Tonya adores him.  However he and LaVona split up and he leaves while she is still very young.

Fast forward to Tonya’s late teens and she gets involved with and ultimately marries Jeff Gillooly.  It is a tumultuous union.  She went from a mother who abused her physically and mentally to a husband who raises the level of physical abuse even higher.  In the midst of this, Tonya is struggling to be recognized for her achievements on the ice, and being snubbed by judges she believes are biased against her.  Until this moment (at approximately 59 seconds of the clip):

That is the real Tonya Harding becoming the first American woman to land a Triple Axel jump in a competition.  She wins the Nationals and its on to the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France.  She finished 4th in the competition while Kristi Yamaguchi won the Gold for the U.S. and Nancy Kerrigan won the Silver.  It looked like her skating career was over.

But the International Olympic Committee decided to hold the next Winter Games in 1994 rather than 1996 and this gave Tonya one last shot.  To eliminate her strongest competition, Jeff Gillooly went to Shawn Eckhardt to try to frighten her with death threats.  Instead, Eckhardt hires two people to break Kerrigan’s knees.  The conspiracy unravels quickly and suddenly the powers that be want to prevent Tonya from being on the U.S. Olympic team for the 1994 games.  She files a lawsuit and is allowed to compete.

While I, Tonya is based on true events, this is biting satire and it is done very well.  The difference between the events as portrayed in the movie and how they actually occurred will be provided at the end of this review.  The way the story is told on film is highly entertaining.  Margot Robbie and Allison Janney deserve all of the critical acclaim their performances have generated.  Julianne Nicholson is also excellent in a restrained but effective performance.  Bobby Cannavale as a TV tabloid journalist provides some perspective.  I, Tonya may not be worthy of a gold medal, but the performances are.


In reality, it was LoVana who left Al and Tonya first.  But he landed a new job in a distant city and that caused Tonya to move back in with her mother.

The film shows Shawn Eckhardt blabbing about his “op” that had nailed Kerrigan’s knee.  In fact, he told one person, 24-year old Gene Saunders.  He was a pastor and he was the one who went to the FBI after Eckhardt refused to turn himself in.

The International Olympic Committee voted in 1986 to move the Winter Games to the off year and decided then that 1994 would be the first year on that schedule.  The change was not a sudden event after the 1992 games.

Did Tonya Harding know about the attack during the planning stages?  I’ll leave that to you to determine for yourself.  But I can tell you one thing the film got right.  LoVana did have a bird sitting on her shoulder for an interview.

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