Retrospective Review: I, Tonya

Retrospective Review: I, Tonya

“America. They want someone to love, but they want someone to hate, and the haters always say. ‘Tonya, tell the truth!’ There’s no such thing as truth. I mean it’s bullshit!”- Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

Retrospective Review is generally for a look back at a film after time has passed to reflect on it. This review is a reassessment of the historical event mixed with a review of the recent 2017 movie starring Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding.

I was 8 years old when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by an assailant wielding a police baton before the 1994 Winter Olympics. The unforgettable, heartbreaking cries of Kerrigan wailing “Why? Why? Why?” have pierced through time. I remember praying for the authorities to catch the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Of course, it became a gigantic scandal once the conspirators were linked to Tonya Harding. Since I was young at the time, I just accepted the general narrative that Harding definitely knew about the attack and was involved. The media casted her as the villain and the foil to the heroic Kerrigan for the 1994 Winter Olympics. That image was solidified with all the late night and popular culture jokes about Harding as a villain and the mastermind of the attack. Accordingly, I have only known as her a villain and never thought of her as anything else. If she tried to explain and tell me otherwise, I probably would not have bothered to listen to her story. I did not care or know about her rough upbringing, personal struggles, or figure skating accomplishments.

I decided to watch I, Tonya after hearing about all the critical acclaim for the film. I expected it to be a comedy about Tonya Harding as the villain in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Instead, I got a very different movie. I, Tonya is a film about the rise and tragic fall of Harding (Margot Robbie). At a very young age, Harding displays an incredible, natural ability to skate. Unfortunately, she faces abuse by her mother, LaVona Fay Golden (Allison Janney), throughout her childhood. In her teenage and early adult years, she is involved in an abusive relationship with her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Due to her poor upbringing, she is unfairly seen as “white trash” from the “wrong side of the tracks”. This stigma hurts her in the elegant but also snobby sport of figure skating that has biased, preconceived notions on how its female champions should look and appear. Despite all these obstacles, she soars to incredible heights and accomplishes feats that no other skater has accomplished before her. However, she squanders much of her amazing athleticism and talent. Of course, she has a lot of culpability in her own demise. Nevertheless, it is her ill-advised marriage to Gillooly that is a primary driver in derailing her life and career.

margot-robbie-tonya-harding

The film is especially interesting because it sets up and provides an account of the Kerrigan attack from the perspective of Harding, whose side of the story the public has mainly not cared about and dismissed. From Harding’s account, she is only a pawn and guilty by association with nefarious, nincompoops who plotted without her knowledge. The film does an incredible job challenging my preconceptions about Tonya Harding and what I thought I knew about the Kerrigan incident. After watching it, I could empathize with her possibly being a secondary victim in the event. The film forces me to reconsider and rethink the entire circumstance and Harding’s role in it. Of course, I am also not naïve. One still needs to be skeptical. The movie is based on interviews with Harding and Gillooly, who obviously remember the events very differently. In regards to Harding, she could definitely be totally lying or misremembering key details because each person needs to believe she is the hero of her own story. It is also difficult for individuals to admit being wrong. Nonetheless, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The 2 hour ABC special Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story (Truth and Lies) is a great supplement to the movie and adds intrigue to the story. I watched the special after the film ignited my curiosity. It interviews many reporters who covered the story. Most importantly, it interviews Harding. It touches upon a lot of the key scenes and allegations in the film. The cast of the movie is top notch. Margot Robbie, who is also a producer on the film, does a great job portraying Harding. Sebastian Stan does a good job with Jeff Gillooly. Nevertheless, Allison Janney steals the show as LaVona Golden capturing the eccentric and unique character. Even if one does not buy the film painting Harding as a victim, one can still appreciate the tragic story of a person who could have been remembered as a hero for overcaming her surroundings but could not escape and was taken down by them. Her story is a lot more multidimensional and complicated than I had previously thought.

The film begins with Harding’s childhood. She is extremely close to her father. They go hunting together and joyriding in his truck. He is her mother LaVona’s fourth husband. Not surprisingly, the married couple eventually butt heads and he unfortunately leaves Tonya at a young age. It is a heartbreaking scene when he drives away despite pleas from Harding to take her with him. Accordingly, she is raised by her mother. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, she is physically and mentally abused by her mother. The film depicts two incidents alleged by Harding. The first is when LaVona hits Tonya with a hairbrush because she is upset with her daughter’s skating. It definitely occurred in real life because LaVona has admitted to it. However, she argues over the magnitude of it. She does not think it is a beating. In general, LaVona’s defense is that she spanked but did not beat. In my opinion, it is not a great argument. She admits to physically hitting Tonya. It obviously created an adverse effect on her daughter. I would be more skeptical of Tonya if she only made the allegations after she was disgraced because it would seem like an excuse for her actions. However, she made claims of abuse at an early age and there is video of a teenage Tonya stating she does not have a good relationship with her mother. The second incident is a lot more absurd. The film portrays Tonya’s accusation that her mother once threw a steak knife at her. If true, it is a damning example of the abuse she endured. If Tonya made the account up, then it is clear evidence that supports her mother’s counterpoint in Truth and Lies that “She’s lied so much she doesn’t know what isn’t a lie anymore.” I have no basis to lean to one side or the other. It is difficult to comprehend how someone could make such an outrageous claim up. It is equally baffling to think that a parent would hurl a deadly weapon at a child. However, it is possible because extreme instances of domestic violence have occurred when hot headed assaulters lose their tempers against loved ones. Nevertheless, the “she said, she said” nature of it shows how dysfunctional their mother daughter relationship is. Tonya also faces mental abuse. Her mother constantly belittles and tears down her daughter by reinforcing the idea she is a good for nothing loser. Most would agree it is not a bad environment to grow up in. Not surprisingly, they are estranged today.

Lavona

Next, there is an old interview of the real LaVona in a fur coat with a bird on her shoulder. Nothing illustrates her odd sense of fashion and unique personality than that video clip. Similarly, there is no better example of Allison Janey in prime LaVona form than when she duplicates that look. She does an incredible job playing LaVona and steals the show. Janey captures the rawness, vulgarity, and absurdity of her character. At the same time, she has fun with LaVona and adds a lot of charisma to the performance. For example, LaVona is a heavy smoker and drinker. When she greets skating coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) to ask her to train Tonya, she is smoking a cigarette. Although Diane politely reminds her that the rink is non-smoking, LaVona hilariously responds “I’ll smoke it quietly”. LaVona has plenty more off-color comments throughout the film for Janey to have fun delivering. On the more serious side, the film also does a good job providing LaVona’s perspective. From Tonya’s point of view, her mother is a monster. In LaVona’s opinion, she is doing the best she can for her daughter. She is working multiple jobs and spending it all on supporting Tonya and paying for her skating lessons. Moreover, she views her physical abuse as discipline and mental abuse as motivation. She believes that Tonya is an athlete who can only compete and push herself if there is an antagonist telling her she cannot do something so she can prove her wrong. There is a funny scene when a heckler is shouting at Tonya before a competition. When he sits down, LaVona gives him money because she paid him off knowing that her daughter needs the extra push. In a heated argument between the two characters about their relationship during the film, Tonya asks her mother if she ever loved her. LaVona exclaims that “I made you a champion knowing you’d hate me for it. That’s the sacrifice a mother makes.” Moreover, she notes that she wishes her own mother pushed her to a better life instead of being nice. For all those reasons, the film does an incredible job setting LaVona up as an interesting antagonist. It is easy to see how she is a villain from Tonya’s perspective. Nevertheless, it is a multidimensional character. One can also see how she loves her daughter in her own different and often cruel way. Again, Allison Janey is brilliant in capturing all aspects of her character.

Jeff Gillooly

Jeff Gillooly is another antagonist in the movie. Although Tonya cannot choose her mother, she can choose her husband. She chooses poorly and that unhealthy relationship is a primary reason for her personal issues and the destruction of her career. In vintage LaVona style during the film, she approaches her daughter during the wedding and mockingly notes “You fuck dumb. You don’t marry dumb”. In the film and real life, Tonya and Gillooly meet when he hangs out at the skating ring and becomes smitten with Tonya. As a teenager who has yet to experience love, she makes the rookie mistake of falling for the first guy to call her pretty. It starts out sweet as he acts like a gentleman. They also have a great time joyriding in his truck like Tonya used to do with her father. Unfortunately, it devolves into an abusive relationship. Interestingly, the film provides both sides of the story. It depicts the abuse from both accounts. From Tonya’s side, she alleges Gillooly hit her often. He is also controlling, obsessive, and possessive of Tonya. Not surprisingly, his recollections of their relationship contradicts her allegations. From his perspective, she is lying about the abuse. Moreover, he claims that she is abusive to him. Specifically, there is a scene of him remembering them getting into an argument, which culminates with her discharging a shotgun in his direction. Obviously, it is another he said she said situation. Sebastian Stan does a good job portraying the very different and bi-polar sides of Gillooly.

One of the most extreme examples of alleged abuse by Tonya is depicted in the film. Distraught that Tonya has left him, he storms into her apartment with a gun. He threatens to kill her then himself because he cannot live without her. Eventually, he shoots the gun at a fleeing Tonya. In my opinion, it is too intense and too detailed of a story to just make up. In Tonya’s Truth and Lies interview, she is adamant about the abuse and able to describe specific instances without hesitation. If she made it all up, I think she would have at least had to take a second to try to keep her feelings and stories straight. As highlighted by the film, Tonya also made multiple 911 calls and placed a restraining order related to domestic abuse.  In a 2013 Deadspin article Finding Gillooly: What Happened To Figure Skating’s Infamous Villain?, it notes that Gillooly eventually changed his name. He also had plenty of personal issues and a criminal history after his time with her. The article notes “He has declared bankruptcy, been sued nearly a dozen times, and is currently on his third marriage”. In addition, court records show “a restraining order filed by his ex-wife; a restraining order filed against his ex-wife; arrests on charges of assault, DUI, and driving with a suspended license”. As one could see, there is plenty of evidence during his marriage with Harding and his life after it that hurt his credibility and discredit his denials that he did not abuse her. Of course, she probably did fight back, which is the basis of his counter that she was abusive to him. Regardless, it is clear that the ill-advised relationship and eventual marriage to Gillooly was a terrible misstep and negative influence on the course of her story.

Before watching I, Tonya, I never knew how great she once was as a skater. Based on the narrative that she needed an attack on Nancy Kerrigan to get a spot on the 1994 Olympic team, I assumed that she was never good enough to actually compete with and beat a top skater like Kerrigan. The movie does a great job correcting my misconception. In addition to Harding’s rough upbringing and personal struggles with abuse, she deals with being discriminated against by the snobby skating world and its sexist expectations for its female skaters. First, she is deemed not pretty enough. In a sport that expects elegance and certain ladylike behavior, she challenges the status quo by syncing her routines to heavy metal music in her earlier competitions. Her image is in sharp contrast to Kerrigan, who is basically the picture perfect image of the ideal female figure skater who conforms to the norm in terms of look and fluid movements. It is not a knock on Kerrigan for her beauty and grace. The point should be seen as a criticism of a system that does not allow for diverse individuals and weighs too much on misjudging her based on appearances rather than objectively judging her based on execution and achievement.  Next, Tonya is looked down upon because she comes from a poor background and not from a wholesome family. In the film, it depicts an incident when Tonya confronts judges about unfairly giving her lower scores than she deserved. The judge condescendingly insults Tonya for sewing together her own dress. Rightfully so, she lashes out and tells them that she can get a prettier dress if they give her $5,000 to buy one. In the film, she tells the judge to “Suck my dick”. In real life, the jab is a lot tamer. Hysterically, the real Tonya has noted that she wishes she did say that line. For all those reasons above, U.S. Figure Skating does not want her to be the face of their champion.

Triple axel

Despite the deck stacked heavily against her, she reaches heights no other skater had reached before her and forces the figure skating world to recognize her based on the merits of her incredible talent and accomplishments. It is arguable that Harding is the greatest athletic talent of her era. She had the ability to leap higher than any other skater at that time. As such, she is the first American skater, second in the world, to land the legendary triple axel in competition. She is also the first skater to land two triple axels in a single competition. The difficulty of the jump has stood the test of time because she is still only one of eight women in the world to ever land the maneuver in competition. In addition, the film needed to use CGI to replicate it. The triple axel is a jump with 3 ½ revolutions in the air. For all those reasons, it is clearly an extremely skilled jump that only the most special of talents can pull off. When she lands it for the first time in competition, Harding’s pure exhilaration and joy [as she bursts into an uncontrollable smile] is replicated beautifully by Margot Robbie in the film. Robbie does a brilliant job with the character. She also does an amazing job capturing the happiness, pain, and heartbreak Harding must feel as the story of her life transpires. With the execution of the triple axel, she wins the U.S Championships. She also pulls off the triple axel again in the World Championships and places second. At the time, she is probably the 1st or 2nd best skater in the world and clearly above Nancy Kerrigan. The film astutely points out that Harding would have been remembered very differently if her story ended there. She overcomes an underprivileged upbringing and abusive relationships to break the wheel of what a female figure skater should look like, reach the pinnacle of her sport, and accomplish a feat that only one other had done before and few have successfully completed since. She should have been remembered as a hero and role model.

Unfortunately, her story does not end there. After Harding lands those triple axels to win those two titles, she is never able to reach those heights in her career again. A significant amount of her downfall is due to her own hands. Entering her first Olympics, the 1992 Games; she is a favorite to win the Gold medal or at least medal. However, she becomes complacent and gets out of shape. It is a strong example that proves LaVona may know her daughter better than Tonya would like to admit. She probably does need people to tell her she cannot do something to motivate her. Accordingly, she finishes fourth instead and just misses out on medaling at the Olympics. It is a testament to her God given ability that she almost medals out of shape, just on pure talent. However, I believe her life turns out very differently if she medals at those Olympics. She would have completed her journey. The rest of her skating career would have been gravy and there would have been no reason for anyone to attack one of her competitors so she has a better chance to return to another Olympics for redemption. It is a sad story of talent and potential squandered.

Nancy Kerrigan

Of course, no one remembers Harding for her skating anymore because of her association with the attack of Nancy Kerrigan. Before watching this film, her husband Gillooly’s involvement with the conspiracy was plenty enough evidence for me to conclude that Harding knew and was part of the plot to injure and take Kerrigan out so there would be an extra spot on the Olympic team for her. What else did I need to know? In addition, the incident occurred at the beginning of the 24 hours news cycle. Naturally, the media could not get enough of the saga. In Truth and Lies, commentators noted that the drama was made for show business. It stars Nancy Kerrigan as the Disney princess and Tonya Harding as her evil stepsister. Accordingly, the story is a ratings bonanza. In the film, Bobby Cannavale plays the character, Martin Maddox, who works for the defunct show called Hard Copy. Reporting on Harding and the attack on Kerrigan makes his career. I enjoy the film utilizing the fictional character to comment on how the media feeds on the event and helps paint Harding as the villain. The coverage solidifies the perception of her as a villain. Consequently, it does not allow her even an inch to defend herself. As I was very young at the time, it was easy for me to accept the case as a clear black and white situation with Kerrigan as the hero and Harding as the villain. As I have grown up through the years, I have learned that very few things are black and white. There is usually a lot of gray area. Once I relooked at the incident as an adult with much more life experience, it makes sense that there is a lot of obscurity in what actually occurred like most things.

Shawn

One of the key facts in the case is that her ex-husband Gillooly was a main participant, mostly likely mastermind, of the attack. He planned the attack with his friend, Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser). There is no hyperbole or exaggeration for how big of a dope Shawn is. He lives with his parents and has total delusions of grandeur. Hauser portrays the character spot on. If you have no prior knowledge of how dumb the real Shawn is, you may think the movie character is a parody of the actual person. At the end of the movie, clips of a 1994 interview Diane Sawyer had with the real Shawn are shown and the mannerisms and responses from the movie character are virtually identical to them. In the film and the clips, he makes wild claims that he has worked around the world as an international counterterrorism and counter espionage expert. He fantasizes and convinces himself that he is some type of James Bond character. He also adds that he has been quoted by publications about counterterrorism. When he is questioned where he has been quoted, he responds “I believe some travel magazine”. Obviously, it is all utter nonsense. Officially, he is known as Harding’s bodyguard. However, I wonder if he just hung around them because he was Jeff’s friend and he just called himself her bodyguard. In addition, his stupidity and cravings for attention is a primary reason the authorities catch them so fast. After the attack, he cannot stop himself from bragging about it. As such, the individuals, who he tells his story to, report him to the FBI. The motivation for Gillooly and Eckardt to perpetrate the attack are clear. They are both people without any recognizable skill or talent. If it is not for their association with Harding, they would live in complete obscurity. From my perspective, they are clearly exploiting her fame. For this reason, they are incentivized to try to ensure that she makes it on the Olympic team so she can medal. When I read more into the case, they also had an idea to profit off the incident. With the resulting fear after the attack, they believed they could sell bodyguard services to the other skaters. As one could conclude, their motivations to initiate the attack were clear and they confirmed them.

On the other hand, Harding’s motives are not so definitive when I review the events in retrospect. Of course, she benefits from an injured Kerrigan because she has a much better chance of making the team. Throughout the years, I have had a misconception that Harding was not as talented as Kerrigan and needed the attack to advance to the Olympics. However, that is not the case. Tonya was clearly the better skater in 1991 and could perform a maneuver Kerrigan could never pull off. Consequently, she knows that she can outclass Kerrigan if she skates to the best of her ability. She has done it before. As a competitor, I assume she wants to beat her rival on the ice rather than initiate an assault to take Kerrigan out of the competition. Again, her mother claims Tonya is motivated by proving critics, who state she cannot do something, wrong. Ordering and being complicit in an opponent being taken out by an injury in an attack is not consistent with that mind set. When she returns home after winning the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kerrigan’s absence and before Gillooly is implicated, she makes a statement [re-enacted by the film] that reinforces that idea: “I’m really happy but it won’t be a true crown until I get my chance at Nancy. And that’ll be the Olympics. And let me tell ya, I’m going to whip her butt”. It is definitely an abrasive and brash statement. It can also be interpreted as a bit classless since everyone else is feeling sorry for Kerrigan. Nevertheless, I think it is Tonya’s way of saying she hopes Kerrigan gets healthy so she can beat the best. Moreover, I believe that is an extremely difficult statement to deliver with a straight face if she has any knowledge or inclination that people in her inner circle were involved with the assault. In addition, the United States had 2 spots on the Figure Skating Olympic team for the 1994 Winter Olympics [the first year the Winter Olympics were separated from the Summer Games, which is why it is only 2 years after the 1992 Olympics when Kristie Yamaguchi, Kerrigan, and Harding were on the U.S. team]. Harding won the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Even if Kerrigan participated and won the competition, Harding would have finished second. Obviously, the injury to Kerrigan potentially opened up another spot and better Harding’s odds to make the team. However, her motivation to initiate or sign off on the attack seems inconsistent with the instincts of a fiery competitor, especially one with as much or more natural talent than her opponents. I would completely buy into it if she had less talent and had not already made the Olympic team two years prior.

After refreshing on the details of the evidence against her, I think it still leaves the possibility that a version of her account might be true even if it is not the most likely reality. It is reflected in the fact that she only plead guilty to hindering the investigation on the attackers (i.e. the cover up and not the crime). Specifically, she admitted to learning about the plot after the attack and trying to cover it up. The FBI and justice system could not prove her guilty of participating in the conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt. A lot of the evidence against her was Gillooly and Eckardt saying that she was involved. However, they are not very credible sources. The authorities caught them red handed. However, law enforcement are never as interested in putting away a couple of clowns rather than catching the high profile individual who may be linked to them (e.g. Tonya Harding). As such, I have no doubt both men were more than willing to say Harding was involved to reduce their own jail time whether it was true or not. In terms of Eckardt, he initially told the FBI she was not involved than changed his tune later. The majority of his accounts against Harding were alleged second hand accounts of Gillooly commenting that Harding was aware. However, I do not take anything Eckardt said seriously anyway based on his tendency to exaggerate and flat out make up a fantasy life. By default, Gillooly was the more credible of the two men. Nevertheless, it is clear that he is not a good person based on allegations against him by Harding during their relationship and his legal issues after their time together. Consequently, his accounts need to be viewed with skepticism. In the Deadspin article, I read his answers with a grain of salt. In my opinion, the most believable response he gave is when the interviewer notes he has maintained she knew and he replies “I’ve read some stories in the paper about what her personal life has become and the trouble she’s got there, and it’s just sad to me. And that’s probably, if I had one real regret, we rode her career. We absolutely rode her career. She was the best figure skater—women’s figure skater—that ever lived. Still is, in my opinion. We decided to do something really stupid there, and it ruined her. She’ll never be remembered for how wonderful a figure skater she was. She’ll be remembered for what I talked her into doing.” The problem with his statement is that he contradicts his accusations back in 1994. Back then, he claimed that she instigated the attack. However, he definitely confirms it was his idea because he “talked her into doing [it]”. In my opinion, the only words in his statement that are definitely facts are that he exploited her career and his idiotic and depraved idea ruined her career.

Next, the most damning evidence against her is an envelope that has her handwriting on it as well as the address of where Kerrigan trained in Massachusetts, Tony Kent Arena. The attackers initially went to that arena before realizing Kerrigan was training in Detroit and went there. The envelope appears to clearly prove that she knew about the attack before it occurred and had a role in it. In the film, it fictionalizes an account that Harding and Gillooly were having a friendly bet where Kerrigan trained and Harding called someone and wrote down “Tony Kent Arena” on the envelope. In real life, a handwriting expert was engaged to analyze the envelope and testify. He noted that Tonya wrote most of the notes on the envelope but some of the notes were written by Gillooly. However, he did not specifically attest that she wrote Tony Kent Arena. Again, they were husband and wife. It is not farfetched to think that Gillooly used and wrote on an envelope that she had already written on. Consequently, it is not hard evidence that proved she knew beforehand, which is exactly why the prosecution settled on her guilty plea to hindering the investigation after she became aware of facts after the attack. On the other hand, it is still very good circumstantial evidence that satisfied the criteria for the preponderance of evidence, which only has the satisfy the threshold of “more likely” to have occurred, for the United States Figure Skating Association to conclude she did know and kick her out of the sport as a skater or future coach.

In addition, it is odd that the authorities never procured overwhelming, conclusive evidence to convict Harding. The participants in the attack were complete idiots in real life and the movie depicts them as such. Kerrigan’s attacker, Shane Stant (Ricky Russert), and his accomplice, Derrick Smith (Anthony Reynolds) are incompetent despite pulling off the attack. In the film, there is a scene when Hard Copy’s Martin Maddox details how Smith and Stant staked out Tony Kent Arena, where they mistakenly thought Kerrigan was initially before realizing she was actually in Detroit. In order to “avoid” suspicion, they moved their car every fifteen minutes to a different parking spot. The video tape recording the maneuver is absolutely ridiculous because they obviously draw attention to themselves, which is totally contrary to what they are trying to accomplish. Next, Stant is a complete brute and buffoon. In real life and the film, he tries to escape after he attacks Kerrigan in Detroit. However, he cannot open a locked door. Instead of using the baton in his hand to break the glass and leave the building, he uses his head to head butt it. Finally, they leave an easily traceable trail for the authorities to track them down. Again, Shawn Eckardt makes it even easier when he cannot stop talking and bragging about his involvement in it. Obviously, all three are morons. They provide a lot of evidence to incriminate themselves and Gillooly. Accordingly, it supports a possibility that Harding did not know about the attack beforehand because those clowns would have surely left some kind of trail, more than one envelope that GIllooly wrote on too, that clearly implicates her. In addition, it provides credence that she did not mastermind and oversee the attack. I find it difficult to believe a mastermind, who is able to almost completely cover her tracks, would put their trust in a bunch of buffoons.

In the end, do I think she knew about the attack before it occurred? In the Deadspin article with Gillooly, the writer makes a note that Kerrigan admitted that the FBI told her “We can’t give you hard proof, but we do this for a living, and we are convinced Harding knew.” Of course, I place a lot of weight on the professional judgment, work, and conclusion of the FBI. On the other hand, I do not know exactly how the agents reached that conclusion and they caveat the statement with they do not have hard evidence. Consequently, I cannot be as sure as they were. In addition, I imagine it is difficult to explain to authorities how she could not have known when your husband and supposed bodyguard were involved. Even if she did not know, I can envision her making contradictory statements because she would have received questions that tried to lead her to a guilty admission and she could have altered her replies in a way that she felt was less suspicious. Moreover, this incident occurred when she was very young at the age of 23. It would be an impossible situation for most people to handle. It is especially difficult when you do not have a strong support system to lean on. She obviously had a lousy one. In defense of her not coming forward immediately after she learned of facts after the attack, she claimed that Gillooly threatened to gang rape her with a couple of friends and kill her if she talked to authorities. From my perspective, I do believe her marriage was abusive and he definitely would have made a threat of some kind towards her to stay quiet. Although her account is not likely what happened based on the circumstantial evidence available, it is still possible.

However, she admits that she overheard them saying they would “take out someone” in Truth and Lies. Obviously, any admission she had knowledge of any kind before the attack contradicts her story that she knew of nothing until after the attack. The only way I can envision it fitting in with her side of the story is if she did not take their statements seriously. Again, Shawn is a complete dope. We all know delusional people who say crazy things that we know they would not do. If they actually do it, we would have a difficult time explaining why we did not say anything. She obviously could not admit it 20 years ago while the legal process was playing out. Nevertheless, the short part of the interview when she speaks about the attack is when she appears least believable to me. During the rest of Truth and Lies, she speaks with conviction and openly, especially in regards to the abuse she experienced from her mother and Gillooly. When she talks about the attack, she looks uncomfortable. Of course, she could feel that way because that incident is why she is disgraced. However, her publicist also recently quit because she wanted to have reporters sign an agreement that they will be fined if they ask her about the Kerrigan attack. It is understandable that she does not want to talk about it. Nonetheless, it makes her look guilty. It is possible, albeit not probable, that her side of the story is true. Regardless, she definitely knew information before the attack. On the other hand, I am unsure of the extent of that knowledge. Did she only hear whispers of a ridiculous idea that she did not take seriously? Is she a brilliant liar who actually masterminded the whole thing and was able to cover up most of her tracks? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. I do not think she is lying about everything but she has most likely scrubbed the facts over the years so that she is totally innocent in her own mind. As human beings, we need to believe we are the heroes in our own stories and victims if we are blamed for something. It is fascinating to view the events from Tonya’s perspective. The one subject I hope she is absolutely telling the truth about is when she talks about her current family in Truth and Lies. In this regard, she has a son with her third husband. She notes that they are her second chance to be loved. At the end of I, Tonya, it notes that the one thing she wants the audience to know is that she is a good mother. Obviously, I hope all those points about her family are true. She paid a steep price and rightfully so if he had any involvement with the attack. She obviously still feels a great weight from the notoriety. Nevertheless, I do hope she actually has moved on in her personal live and found some semblance of peace and happiness.

i-tonya-margot-robbie-tonya-harding-header-split

Do I think this film dramatically changes the public perception of Harding? Absolutely not. Most of the public already has a predetermined perception of her guilt. The majority will not take the time to reconsider. Some of the audience, who watched or will watch the movie, may review and reassess the evidence and story like I did. However, the number of people who watched the movie is greatly outnumbered by the general public who has not seen it and assumes she is guilty. Nevertheless, I am sure it is a bit of a relief and vindicating for Tonya to at least have her side of the story out there. In my opinion, I do not perceive her as a hero from the portrayal of her in the film. She could have very well been a secondary victim if most of what she says is true. At best, I see her as an anti-hero. She was on a path to be a hero. She should have been a hero, especially to the feminism cause as she tried to break through the biases of how a women should look or move to be ladylike on the skating rink. However, she suffered a gigantic fall from grace and became one of the most notorious, hated villains in the 1990s because of the company she kept. Nonetheless, she clearly bears responsibility for having those nefarious people in her life. She has at least admitted so in the past and apologized for associating with them. Nevertheless, I can empathize that she could not escape where she came from and she had to deal with the incident at a young age without enough of a strong support system. Unfortunately, she did not have more people like her skating instructor, Diane Rawlinson. In the film, she is one of the few positive influences in Tonya’s life as she tries to tame her pupil’s wildness and roughness to teach her control and grace. Nicholson does a fine job portraying a teacher who is calm and poised compared to a hot tempered student. It is a reminder that we should be grateful to the people who help us succeed. No matter how much we feel that we did it by ourselves through hard work and sacrifice to achieve our goals, we cannot accomplish as much as we do without the family, friends, teachers, and colleagues who support, guide, and motivate us. The drastic twist in the story of Tonya Harding is a reminder of the sentiment that it takes a village to raise a child.

Regardless, it is too easy to say Nancy is the perfect hero and Tonya is the evil villain in their story. Life is rarely that black and white. The film re-enacts the infamous scene in the 1994 Winter Olympics when Tonya’s lace broke and she scrambles to get to the rink for her routine. When she starts her routine and it remains an issue and she cannot perform effectively, she heads over to the judges in tears and pleads with them to allow her to fix her lace and start over. They ultimately decide to permit it. At the time, the public took great pleasure in her looking like a crybaby. It was seemingly karma for someone it assumed was absolutely guilty. From the viewpoint and context of the plot of the movie, one can empathize with how it would be heartbreaking for a skater to not be able to perform in such an important moment in their career because of an equipment failure. In addition, the pressure of the scandal must have been unbearable and added to her stress. Then again, it is foolish to not bring an extra lace. On the other hand, Nancy clearly had her flaws too. She is not the flawless Disney princess the media wanted to paint her as after the attack. The film also brings up the fact that Kerrigan is far from graceful when she receives a silver medal instead of the gold medal. It is actually generous to her for only mentioning she had a pissed off face and not reminding the audience of what she specifically said. The details from real life is that Oksana Baiul was awarded the gold medal over Kerrigan in a 5-4 decision. Obviously, it is a gut-wrenching loss for Kerrigan that is difficult to accept. In contrast, Baiul cried uncontrollably out of joy. Despite Kerrigan’s heartbreak, we expect sportsmanship and grace from our athletes in defeat. Instead, Baiul was late for the medal ceremony because she needed to reapply her makeup and Kerrigan was caught on camera angrily commenting “Oh, come on. She’s going to get up there and cry again. What’s the difference?” It was not an isolated incident either. Kerrigan entered into a $2 million sponsorship deal with Disney. During a Disney parade and while sitting next to Mickey Mouse, she remarked “This is so corny. This is so dumb. I hate it. This is the most corny thing I’ve ever done.” Of course, most people would have done it for $2 million. She came off very ungrateful. Nonetheless, these examples do not make Kerrigan a villain. However, they are reminders that individuals are a lot more complex than the public personas that they and/ or the media portray. A key takeaway I have from watching the film then reconsidering the events is a quote Connie Chung provides in Truth and Lies: “Nancy wasn’t all good and Tonya wasn’t all bad”.

I, Tonya is a great movie that provides an intriguing account of Tonya Harding’s life, especially in regards to the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, from Tonya’s perspective. The characters are fully developed and fascinating. Similarly, the cast is stellar. Margot Robbie delivers a terrific performance as Harding and does double duty with her debut as a producer. Nevertheless, Allison Janey totally steals the show as Harding’s mother, LaVona Golden. It is a film that really makes me rethink the entire incident and scandal. It inspired me to perform a deep dive into the attack that took almost three weeks. In the end, Tonya probably knew something about it before it. However, I definitely do not know how much she knew and cannot rule out the possibility that a lot of what she claims is true. In an interview with Good Morning America about the film, Allison Janey summarizes it best when she notes “While the movie doesn’t completely exonerate her, it does make you question what exactly her hand in all of that [the attack] was… you think, maybe, I misjudged her.”

Pat Wong

About Pat Wong

Patrick is a contributor for Rookerville. He is an avid sports fan. Before joining Rookerville, he was part of a defunct New York Yankees message board, NYYankeefans, where he was its top poster and was inducted in its Hall of Fame for his contributions. Patrick is also a passionate fan of movies. He has enjoyed reading movie reviews over the years and is excited about the opportunity to review movies. Patrick is also a passionate foodie. He is Yelp Elite for three years in a row and shares his great finds in New York and his travels.

Comments

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: