Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: I, Tonya/ the Ice King

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: I, Tonya/ the Ice King

Article excerpt

Films about the Winter Olympics don't grow on conifers. Twenty-five years ago there was Cool Runnings about the Jamaican bobsleigh team. It took many years for Eddie the Eagle to reach the screen. Both were cockle-warming comedies about implausible Olympians who embody the ideal that participation is all. Only last week Elise Christie, the British speed skater who kept tumbling in Pyeongchang (and Sochi), hoped that 'Reese Witherspoon' would play her in the movie. In the mean time, the latest Olympiad has flushed out two more biopics on ice.

I, Tonya tells of Tonya Harding's catastrophic career. Like Monica Lewinsky, Harding is a public figure whose epitaph, thanks to a single headline, has already been carved. She may have been bullied by her termagant mother LaVona and battered by her husband Jeff, but she will always be remembered for an attack on the knee of her peachy rival Nancy Kerrigan weeks before the '94 Games in Lillehammer. I, Tonya is Harding's belated absolution and it holds up a sprightly middle digit to her future obituarists.

There is finally no knowing how much Harding knew about the Kerrigan attack, and so Steven Rogers's script wisely hands the story over to a squabbling bunch of unreliable narrators who each say their piece direct to camera. They make for quite a menagerie of grotesques. LaVona (Allison Janney) has tubes feeding both nostrils and a pecking parakeet on her shoulder. Jeff the slap-happy husband (Sebastian Stan) wears the shifty air of the guilty-as-charged. Harding's self-described bodyguard Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) has the look and IQ of a dunkin' doughnut.

There's never any doubt whose side you're meant to be on. Margot Robbie plays Harding as a feisty survivor whose triumph was to triple-Axel her way out of the trailerpark. Kerrigan, who barely speaks, didn't have to wait tables or sew on her own tacky sequins. Harding sometimes lets off a rifle at home, but hers is a mainly sweet nature. LaVona reckons she has to be goaded out of it to skate better, like a pocket Incredible Hulk, so in one scene she slips greenbacks to a man who has been hurling rinkside abuse.

Janney has been cleaning up in awards season as the cussing mother from the very pit of hell. 'You fuck dumb, you don't marry dumb,' she counsels at her daughter's wedding, as Tonya escapes from one violent abuser to shack up with another. …

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