I, Tonya: My Impressions

I was hoping to see I, Tonya last week when it debuted at my local art theatre, but between a bad cold and the frigid weather, I waited until today. I posted some of my impressions of the film in a thread at the Figure Skating Universe forum. I will repeat those here, with some additional insights.

For me, the film works best if I view it as a story and the various figures as characters, as opposed to a true-to-life biopic of Tonya Harding or a literal account of the events surrounding the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Having lived through that era of skating history, I could easily spot the places where the movie didn’t jibe with my memory of what actually happened. The key players’ versions of the truth contradict each other, which is emphasized in the movie itself.

Some other random thoughts about I, Tonya:

1. The film portrays Tonya as a victim of both parental and spousal abuse, yet at the same time she comes off as her own worst enemy, which is pretty much how I view her in real life.
2. Oddly, the Jeff Gillooly character comes off as being the one with the most genuine feelings. He truly seems to be in love with Tonya and appears to be in real pain when she leaves him. Meanwhile, Tonya is depicted as using Jeff because he has a steady job and because their relationship gives her an escape from her horrific mother. (Again, I emphasize that I am only referring to the characters in the movie here, not the real humans behind them. I never got these same vibes from the Jeff Gillooly I saw on TV back in the 1990s. And of course, as a skating fan, I have never been privy to what went on between them behind closed doors.)
3. The Diane Rawlinson character would fit in with the Desperate Housewives on Wisteria Lane. I kept wondering if she was on Valium. Or something. At any rate, it was entirely believable that she would forget to bring an extra bootlace to Lillehammer.
4. Allison Janney deserved that Golden Globe Award! Her depiction of LaVona Golden made me both laugh and cringe.
5. The movie version of Shawn Eckardt comes closest to how I remember his real-life counterpart. I have also known people like him in my own personal life, with their grandiose schemes and far-fetched tales of heroism.
6. The filmmakers took some obvious artistic liberties, especially where the various skating events were concerned. But I can understand why they needed to do it that way. Having taken my own artistic liberties with some of these very same competitions in Red Flags, I found this amusing. (Who knew that Skate America 1986 could be so inspiring?)
7. I wish there had been something at the end about how Tonya was shut out of the professional skating realm due to the other skaters banding together and telling the promoters they would not perform on the same ice with her. That was a bigger punishment than being banned from the USFSA, since Tonya’s competitive career was over by that point anyhow. While the professional skating scene was thriving before the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, it surged afterward. In the mid-to-late 1990s, there were ice shows, professional competitions, and “cheesefests” on TV almost every week. Everyone made tons of money– except Tonya.
8. While the movie isn’t “about” Nancy, I felt there should have been something to show that, yes, this was a physical assault on a human being and it must have been a terrifying, painful experience for her.

9. The figure skating establishment as depicted in I, Tonya are a bunch of biased, elitist snobs who are overly concerned with Tonya’s impoverished background and overall lack of ice princess-ness. While other skaters have made similar claims over the years– and I’m sure it’s more true than not– the fact remains that the USFSA put Tonya on two Olympic teams. When she skated well and landed her legendary triple axel, her background didn’t matter so much. But she wasn’t allowed any margin of error. The establishment wasn’t going to hold her up if she didn’t deliver. But Tonya was in pretty good shape at the 1994 U.S. Nationals. She would have earned a spot on the Olympic team even if Nancy had been able to compete.

If anyone else has seen I, Tonya, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. If you happen to be among the Nancy supporters who refuse to watch this film, I’d like to hear from you, too.

Tonya(Here is a crude artistic rendering of Tonya circa 1991 that I made on Canva.)

2 thoughts on “I, Tonya: My Impressions

  1. Good comments! I loved the movie, but some things made me twitch, like pretending the 1994 Winter Olympics was a surprise. I always was a Tonya fan (loved Nancy too) so this really filled in the blanks for me for some of her odd behavior – even before “the incident”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The athletes knew there would be a Winter Olympics in 1994 as far back as 1988. So yes, Tonya would have known all along that she could, theoretically, compete in both the 1992 and 1994 Games. Also, the film doesn’t mention compulsory figures, which would have constituted a major part of Tonya’s training during her formative years– and which would have affected her scores during her earliest senior-level competitions. But looking at the results from the 1988 U.S. Nationals, Tonya was actually ahead of Kristi and Nancy in figures, although she was behind the older, more experienced skaters such as Debi Thomas and Caryn Kadavy.

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