Based on or inspired by real events, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) is a young girl pushed by her overbearing and frankly awful mother, to become a competitive skater in the USA in the 90’s.
Unfortunately, Harding is from the wrong side of the tracks, somewhat closer to trailer-trash city. Together with her chain-smoking, hard cussing mother gleefully dissing Skating’s administration and coaches, she has an uphill battle to be accepted.
No matter how well she skates, including landing the first female triple axle, her costume is never right, her family’s not good enough and she has no presentable partner to speak of. Basically, Tonya is the very antithesis of what the skating fraternity wishes to portray, an all wholesome American, clean living ice princess.
Harding meets Jeff (Sebastian Stan), not the sharpest tool in the box and they form a tempestuous and ultimately violent relationship, which traverses many dark times. When competing for places on the Olympic team, rivalries and jealousies with fellow competitors are inevitable, which leads team Tonya down a dark alley.
Jeff has a friend who makes him look like a rocket scientist in comparison. Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) is dumber than a bunch of rocks who failed basic rock school. Shawn is portrayed as a Walter Mitty type figure, believing himself to be an international secret agent, despite clearly not being one, whilst living at home with his mum and dad.
It is fair to say Shawn and his even more stupid “operatives”, place Harding and Jeff into a whole world of hurt following the “incident”, well documented in the press at the time.
The film takes risks, with characters breaking the fourth wall, talking to the camera and occasionally even reminding the audience the story is supposed to be focusing on them, not somebody else.
Janney is truly amazing, not only barely recognizable but sketching out a true monster, seemingly delighted to be creating somebody in her own image. Robbie does great work, not being afraid to portray a character, seemingly undeserving of much empathy.
Hauser and Stan really push the boat out, creating characters that are occasionally amusing, dangerous and just downright stupid. Whether this is a fair representation is difficult to know, the whole Harding story is clouded in a “he said, she said” fog of media sensation.
Director Craig Gillespie is also worth a mention, together with his SFX team (and skating stunt double) they have managed to “place” Robbie on the ice completing elaborate jumps, via face replacement technology with an adoring (or not) stadium crowd roaring her on.
An interesting take on what was a sensationalist story at the time with plenty of realistic, inventive and necessary swearing.
It does not always work completely and only those involved know the real truth but highly enjoyable and a very “different” watch that rewards those prepared to take the leap.