How 'I, Tonya' tackled its controversial domestic violence scenes


She's sitting in a modest kitchen, cigarette in hand, proudly wearing cowboy boots and an attitude.

Harding's crowning glory came at the 1991 U.S. Nationals, where she became the first American woman (and second ever) to land a triple Axel jump (Japan's Midori Ito was the first).

A darling of Toronto Film Festival in September, I, Tonya could be a rebellious force during award season: It's a dark horse best picture contender, Allison Janney (as Tonya's abusive mother) is a lock for a supporting actress nomination and Karger says Robbie is "in the conversation" for best actress alongside heavyweights like Meryl Streep (The Post) and Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).

"I, Tonya" is the Tonya Harding film you never knew you wanted: an outrageously entertaining reappraisal of the Olympic figure skater who, in 1994, was involved in a scheme to injure her main rival, Nancy Kerrigan.

The Craig Gillespie-directed film shines a spotlight on the Olympian who became a household name when she was implicated in the attack on fellow Team USA skater, Nancy Kerrigan. Instead, she was ordered to serve community service and pay a large fine, and, most significantly, was banned from pro skating for life.

Harding's career never recovered, either on or off the ice, while Kerrigan was America's darling for a time, until she was caught bad-mouthing another competitor during the Olympics and then, later on in the same year, she dissed Mickey Mouse.

"Domestic violence is prevalent in the script, and we were very conscious about depicting it in the right way", Robbie, who produced the film and stars as Tonya Harding, added.

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But it is Tonya we see bearing the burden of that sacrifice, forced to grow up in a loveless household and doomed to marry the first handsome loser she meets: Jeff Gillooly, nicely played by Sebastian Stan as a mustache in search of an IQ. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, her mom LaVona pushed her to the limits, degrading and even hitting her.

Harding was also known for her risk-taking music choices. That doesn't mean that everyone has to be completely joyless-I, Tonya is a blast even if it does make us uneasy and uncomfortable-but rather acknowledging that we as a society got some things wrong, and not in a forgotten past, but only about 20 years ago.

We find ourselves rooting for this rough-around-the-edges outsider as she rebels against the system, skating to heavy metal and sporting nails with chipped blue polish.

The stellar performance here, though, is Janney's. Janney nails every caustic line while costumed in a bowl-cut wig and owlish glasses, cigarette dangling from her lips, pet bird on her fur-clad shoulder. LaVona will hold the cost of Tonya's skating lessons over her head for the rest of her life, long after she compelled her daughter to drop out of school so she can focus on the sport. For LaVona, it's an annoying inconvenience, not a moment for motherly empathy. A tired waitress with nothing much else in her life besides her cigarettes and her daughter, she shoves and slaps her, demeans her, and calls her names, all while forcing her to just keep skating. For example, Confirmation, which looks at Anita Hill coming out to say how she was sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas, probably would have been better suited to a miniseries rather than an HBO movie.

One of the key moments of filming was when Craig Gillespie made a decision to experiment with Tonya talking directly to camera after being attacked by Jeff. They married when Harding just 19, and according to the film's portrayal, he abused her physically and verbally-once even shooting her-and while she sometimes fought back, she often took it as her due.

What both women have in common and what this recent work serves to emphasize is that the popular media of the time not only relegated both to caricatures, but minimized their accomplishments. I gasp-laughed, then couldn't stop thinking about it. For me, the satire and the humor are what made this film irresistible.