The Lavonna of "I, Tonya" pushes her daughter relentlessly, but her pugnacious vulgarity is also Tonya's biggest handicap.
"I, Tonya" opened December 8 with mounting awards buzz for its star, Margot Robbie.
For those who aren't familiar with this scandal, Harding, a USA champion skater headed for her second Olympics, basically became a tabloid punch line when her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (played by Sebastian Stan) and her body guard Shawn Eckhardt (played by Paul Walter Hauser), conspired to hire some goons to whack her main competitor-America's skating darling Nancy Kerrigan-in the knee. The story is amusingly told through the eyes of the different characters, who often speak directly to the camera to contradict each other. For me, the satire and the humor are what made this film irresistible. It charts her rise to figure-skating record-breaker and the personal turmoil leading up to "the incident" by employing a Rashomon-like structure, where Tonya (Robbie) and her former husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) give their "wildly contradictory" accounts of what happened. In his separate conversations with the pair, he found their perspectives differed to such a degree that Rogers simply chose to let them speak for themselves, directly addressing the audience and letting their conflicting versions of events jockeying for screen time. The actress, for whom Rogers wrote the part, should, at the very least, be in the running for the Oscars this time around, and so should Robbie, though the role of Harding is far subtler and reactive. The two have been friends since they were in acting school together in New York City.
Therein lies the real tragedy behind I, Tonya. I said it before she actually read the script. But she and whatever doubles were used capture every bit of Harding's driving athleticism. There were even reports that she would perform in a special skating exhibition.
Success took a while, and it wasn't until she was cast as President Jed Bartlet's press secretary C.J. Cregg on "The West Wing" that her career took off. She's a punching bag who should be pitied, but is instead made a punchline when the Coen brothers-esque scheme by Gillooly - likewise a victim of his associates - and bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) rapidly spins out of control. "I hope the same can be said of us all".
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Harding has always denied being involved in planning the attack on Kerrigan but pleaded guilty to obstructing justice, which led to the ban. She was portrayed as the bad girl. So to pick the right filmmaker was going to be huge", Robbie says, citing why she also signed on as a producer: "I just wasn't prepared to let all of those things just be left up to someone else's decision. "Try ordering a coffee with that - you'll get a good response!"
Janney never got to meet LaVona.
Harding went to her second Olympics as the U.S. Champion and under a cloud of suspicion. "Inside Edition" found her and aired a segment on her where she disputes being abusive. They didn't like Tonya, because she was poor and wore second-hand or improvised costumes hand-sewn by her mother, and because she didn't have the natural grace of some skaters; she was more of an athlete, performing incredible tricks - she was the first American to successfully land the triple axel in competition - but did not look especially feminine on the ice. A lot will also recall the promising figure skating careers that both women had, before a brutal attack on Kerrigan in 1994 almost ended her career, and irrevocably ruined Harding's reputation.
Janney says she can understand that frustration.