Review by James Colt Harrison
There is much to love about ice skating; the style, the grace, and amazing techniques that continue to thrill us as we watch talented skaters conquer the ice. Stars such as Scott Hamilton, Tara Lipinsky, Katarina Witt and Kurt Browning have all held us spellbound by doing amazing spins and jumps.
Digging back into the archives even further, Dick Button won two Gold Medals at the Olympics in 1948 and 1952 and became World Champion five times. All-time ice-queen Sonja Henie was World Champion for 10 years in a row and won three Gold Medals in 1928, (at age 15), 1932 and 1936. She also went on to become a world-wide favorite movie star by appearing in many 20th Century Fox ice musicals such as Thin Ice (1937) with Tyrone Power, My Lucky Star (1938) with Cesar Romero, and Sun Valley Serenade(1941) with John Payne and bandleader Glenn Miller, among others.
Harding’s background was of the trailer trash variety. Her mother, La Vona Golden, played magnificently by Allison Janney, abused her, pushed her to skate, and ultimately neglected her. Janney is the best actress in the movie, and we can say right from the start she steals the picture.
Young Tonya (Mckenna Grace) showed talent on the ice when she was a little girl. Her mother exploited that talent and neglected her formal education. So, Tonya ended up a little brighter than a dim bulb, but boy could she skate rings around everybody else! She rose up in the world of champions. Margot Robbie plays the grownup Harding and does a splendid job of capturing the essence of the tough and determined skater. Robbie rehearsed for months to learn how to skate, and in most scenes she does all her own rink work. Others filled in for the complicated jumps and spins, but it all flows smoothly and you never know it isn’t Robbie doing all the work.
Harding was the first skater to execute the difficult triple axel jump and spin in competition. It was sensational, but Harding never got as much credit for her expert skating as she thought she deserved. This caused both hurt and resentment on her part. Robbie captures that part of Harding’s tough personality by giving it a softer edge at times.
Enter Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. If Harding was a dim bulb, then Gillooly was completely switched off. In an ill-advised and thought-out scheme, he planned to help Harding in her competition. He devised a plot with his schlub (talentless) friend, Shawn; a menacingly hilarious Paul Walter Hauser to take a baton to the knee of competitor Nancy Kerrigan in the now famous assault. That would eliminate Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) from competition, but it also ruined Harding’s skating career. Actor Sebastian Stan plays Gillooly as a man of good intentions but one with a brain that had been removed before he laid out the plans.
The biography isn’t perfect, but it does give the public a little more understanding of what went wrong with Harding’s promising career and how she remains the laughing stock of the ice skating world.
Ice skating fans, Tonya Harding followers.