There is a way to tell Tonya Harding's side of the story, and "I, Tonya" isn't it.
"I, Tonya" tells the story of Tonya Harding, the disgraced figure skater infamously wrapped up in the attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan in the lead-up to the 1994 Olympic Games. A media firestorm erupted following the attack, and as facts came out that Harding's husband Jeff Gillooly was involved in orchestrating the attack, Harding was painted as a villain.
"I, Tonya" tries to show Harding's side of the story. It details her abusive upbringing in an attempt to make audiences understand the lengthy and often-overlooked context behind Harding's life and the incident.
If even a fraction of the events of Harding's life that the movie depicts actually happened (the characters occasionally break the fourth wall to let audiences know that a scene really happened or didn't), Harding had a rough childhood. But trying to convince audiences to feel sympathy for her is a daunting task. I wasn't alive in 1994 and didn't learn about Harding until a couple years ago, but already I've been trained that Harding is the bad guy.
However, the movie doesn't overreach and try to make Harding innocent. While there are genuine moments of heartbreak, particularly when Harding is younger (and not played by Margot Robbie), as she grows older, it seems Harding becomes almost complicit with her terrible situation. I left the theater feeling confused about whether I was victim-shaming or not.
The movie's approach to Harding's story doesn't help the situation, as mental abuse paired with condescending narration and dark humor that paints Harding as an anti-heroine left me questioning whether I should find the situation upsetting or not.
The disconnect in emotions and inconsistent tone are not the only problems that detract from the movie. Stylistic cinematography is ruined with sloppy editing, a timeline that sporadically jumps around and noticeably-bad visual effects that take the viewer out of the film on more than one occasion.
I understand if Margot Robbie is not able to tackle advanced skating techniques, but if a director is going to pull off long, sustained tracking shots of Harding during her on-ice performances, it's important to be able to digitally replace Robbie's face on the stunt-double's head without it looking like an early-2000s video game.
Margot Robbie is sufficient for the role, bringing enough emotion for the few scenes of emotional outburst. Unfortunately, due to either the script's unusual take on the dark events or Harding's personality, her performance often seems held back.
Sebastian Stan as Gillooly and Allison Janney as LaVona Golden, Harding's cruel mother, bring more impactful performances. With less depth than Harding, however, they narrow down to one or two basic character traits. Combined with the movie's dark-humor approach, it's difficult to identify with the characters. Golden in particular has virtually no redeemable qualities, and though Janney fully commits to the role, a dynamic character she is not.
Going in, I expected a compelling argument to change my mind on Tonya Harding, a weak view I held based solely on a ten-minute abbreviated recap of the Nancy Kerrigan events. Leaving, I felt like I had greater context of Harding's life, but no stronger opinion one way or the other. Rather than leaving me angered or steadfast in my resolve, the movie just left me feeling gross and confused.