From the proverbial wrong side of the tracks in Portland, Oregon, former competitive figure skater Tonya Harding was never fully accepted in the figure skating community for not inherently being the image of grace, breeding and privilege that the community wanted to portray, despite she being naturally gifted in the sport athletically. Despite ultimately garnering some success in figure skating being national champion, a world championship medalist, an Olympian, and being the first American woman to complete a Triple Axel in competition, she is arguably best known for her association to "the incident": the leg bashing on January 6, 1994 of her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, who, unlike Tonya, was everything that the figure skating community wanted in their representatives. Her association to that incident led to Tonya being banned from competitive figure skating for life. Tonya's story from the beginning of her figure skating life at age four to the aftermath of the incident is presented...Written by
As much as I knew about the ice-skater Tonya Harding was her association with the Nancy Kerrigan incident at the Winter Olympics and her being the only American woman to, up to that point, successfully pull off a triple salkot in competition. I know that she was disgraced as a result of her at-a-distance connection to the Kerrigan assault but that she'd come back into the public eye, competing recently in the American version of "Strictly Come Dancing". So what an eye-opener this low-budget feature was.
It unflinchingly shows her upbringing, from a broken home, natch by a mother who clearly put the "hard" into Harding. Chain-smoking, foul-mouthed and bullying, she's the ice skating equivalent of the infamous "show-biz moms" you read about, hitting her daughter with everything but a little maternal love, deluding herself that her cruelty to her only child is self-sacrifice on her part designed to toughen up her little girl for the big bad world that's out there. Her father, you get the impression might just have made a difference, but you couldn't really blame him for baling out on his no-redeeming-features wife.
There's dark comedy in these early scenes as mommie dearest Lavona ignores every social convention to promote her tomboy daughter's one given talent, her ice-skating ability but its typical of Tonya's luck that the man who comes into her life romantically turns out to be a jealous, possessive guy who behind his geeky moustache and weedy appearance threatens her, hits her and even shoots at her anytime she tries to break away from him. Not that Tonya is any shrinking violet, she gives as good as she gets in their numerous arguments and drop-down fights but unfortunately he's back in play just as she's readying herself for a crack at the Olympics where her biggest rival will be clean-cut, all-American Nancy Kerrigan, whose stylishly cut, virginal white skating costume contrasts vividly with Harding's old-fashioned, frills and bows homemade outfit.
The "incident" itself, a cockeyed plan by hubby and his meathead bodyguard chum, sees the latter beat Kerrigan on the leg after a training session, becomes international news as the Winter Olympics of 1992 come around pitching the rivals head-to-head with a recovered Kerrigan finishing a close-up second but a psyched-out Harding come in a lowly eighth and that after a controversial re-skate when she dramatically stops her first routine as her boot lace comes undone.
This movie is the women's ice-skating equivalent of "Raging Bull", a warts and all portrayal of a kid from the wrong side of the tracks striving to make something of herself with everything seemingly stacked against her. Her greatest moment is shown not as winning Skate America or coming second in the World Championships but the first time she nails that near impossible jump on the ice. From there it's downhill all the way as we see her struggle with her notoriety in the aftermath of all the publicity post-conviction, trying to scratch a living, even trying pro-boxing for a spell.
The performances by the three leads, Margot Robbie as Harding, Allison Janney as the mother from hell and Sebastian Stan as her unhinged husband are terrific. The direction style is a clever mix of eye-on-the-wall documentary realism including recreated to-camera interviews with the main participants and fourth-wall-breaking asides together with convincing depictions of the ice-skating sequences.
It all makes for a deliberately awkward but compulsive insight into Stateside trailer-trash living and also how hard it is for those on the inside to break free from this rough and tumble upbringing and make something of themselves. In this biopic, Tonya Harding tried as hard as she could but was literally born to lose, the little victories and happiness she achieved along the way, scant recompense for a reputation tarnished forever by events outwith her control.
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