Please allow me to provide a little context. When the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan scandal occurred in the lead up to the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, I was six. I was not the target audience for the media frenzy that flared up around it. My knowledge of the fiasco came as I grew older and Ms. Harding became the subsequent joke of professional sports regarding athletic misconduct and her bizarre appearance in a celebrity boxing match with Paula Jones (yes, that did happen). And, to me and I believe a majority of people, that is all that Tonya Harding has been for over twenty years, a joke.
I, Tonya is framed like a documentary. Well, sort off. The very first shot's we see are in 4:3 aspect ration of the principal players speaking directly to the camera and talking about their lives leading up to the incident in 1994. This immediately creates an odd sensation when viewing this picture. The shattering of the fourth wall reverberates throughout this entire flick, with Tonya and the other leads from time to time looking directly at the camera to discuss what is going on or even act out situations that may or may not have even occured.
This direction in an drama/dark comedy, let alone one that involves actual people and events of fairly recent history, gives the entire story of I, Tonya an absurdist edge. When we see the psychological abuse Tonya (Margot Robbie) endures growing up from her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) and her physically violent relationship with Jeff (Sebastian Stan) it's cranked up a notched. Not to the point of parody, but to the point where it's a little ludicrous. Then when Jeff's delusion friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) enters the picture as Tonya's bodyguard and the "mastermind" of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, his mannerisms and complete detachment from reality make it seem like a farce.
But in the end, it's not.
These events did happen in some form, albeit in a far less dramatic way. The film ends with clips from television interviews and FBI testimonies from the principal players and you see how close the film was to what was actually said and done. Which makes me wonder, was what really happened that ridiculous?
The truth is absurd and absurd is truth.
At the heart of this is Robbie's turn as Harding. I don't think I would've been able to buy into the world and the drama unfolding around her if the lead actor couldn't sell it and I bought Robbie hook, line, and sinker. There's a very good reason she is currently up for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards this year. She plays a woman who has been the proverbial punching bag of people all around her. Her mother constantly puts her down, never once acknowledging her accomplishments and this, in turn, leads to her tumultuous relationship with first husband Jeff. What's interesting is that, even when she gets a way from all that, she's still a punching bag. The professional skating community, the media, they all start taking swipes at Tonya. But the core of her development throughout the film is Tonya's growing willingness to confront those who are abusing her. This culmenates at the very end of the film when she confronts the last group to attack and belittle her and admonishes them for tearing her down.