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I is for Infamous: the rise and fall of Tonya Harding as told in I, Tonya

Craig Gillespie's new movie explores and discovers the dark irony in one of the most discussed American stories of the last thirty years

2 minutes

Forced by a monstrous stage-mom into a life solely dedicated to ice-skating, today Tonya Harding (a revelatory Margot Robbie) is hardly remembered for her feats. What people remember about this wide-eyed, fair-haired pixie with the vocabulary of a sailor is her involvement in the attack of rival Nancy Kerrigan and the subsequent lifetime ban from professional skating.

 

While Disney may try hard with its romanticization of Pocahontas and its hard-working, frog-kissing Tiana, the public character that best fits a realistic idea of American Disney Princess is the infamous Tonya Harding. Beautiful, talented and doomed to be swallowed whole by the whale of group-thinking, she is the true Disney Princess of the American Dream. As Tonya herself says in the new movie by director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, another deconstruction of romantic tropes), America longs for someone to love, then hate, then turn into a joke, and American people want that downfall into infamy to be spelled out as clearly as possible.

 

To say that that describes Trump’s America to a T would be unfair to an administration that deserves all the unfairness it gets: because, truth to be told, that sad parable of fame in America has been true for a very long time, and is one of the many flaws of American culture that led to the unbearable mess that the country is in right now.

 

Julianne Nicholson, Bojana Novakovic, Sebastian Stan, and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya © 2017 – Neon/Lucky Red
Above: Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya © 2017 – Neon/Lucky Red

 

Starting from that particularly depressing truth about the US, I, Tonya delves into the intricacies behind the idiocy of mindless, quick fame and glory. There’s profound ignorance, poverty, closed-mindedness and abuse sewn up in Tonya’s over-the-top sparkly costumes. There’s foolishness, greed and the misconception of what the American Dream should be about in the way the people around Tonya destroy her life, whether or not her involvement was crucial in that destruction. Moreover, there is fearsome ferociousness in the way the shallow beast that is the crowd bites, chews and spits out human beings.
Tonya’s fame and infamy lasts a 24-hour news cycle. As soon as that’s over, there’s a new low to exploit (in this specific case, O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.)

 

Sebastian Stan and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya © 2017 – Neon/Lucky Red

 

Because, while with its graceful direction, biting script and top-notch performances, I, Tonya is a timely fairy tale about thug culture, it is also a story that tries to give humanity back to some very stupid people. It holds up a mirror to our society; a society that finds comfort in the commonness of its stupidity and fears truth and knowledge. That mirror feels uncomfortable, but necessary.
Laughing at Tonya Harding means laughing at our own obsession with empty fame, and it might be time to notice how utterly ridiculous all that makes us look. Much more ridiculous than a simple-minded girl clad in fairy princess clothes and beaten into a reality of meanness and selfishness.

 


Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenplay: Steven Rogers
Cast: Margot Robbie, Bobby Cannavale, Sebastian Stan, Mckenna Grace, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bojana Novakovic, Caitlin Carver, Joey Thurmond, Catherine Dyer, Evan George Vourazeris, Joshua Mikel, Paul Walter Hauser, Heather Williams, Jason Davis
Year: 2017
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Ciro Di Lella works as an Art History and Literature teacher in a private school in Rome and freelances as a translator of Young Adult and romance novels (English to Italian) for a publisher based in Brescia. In the past, he has worked as the artistic director for a film club aimed at high-schoolers. He got the film bug when he was in middle school and hasn’t stopped watching and writing about movies ever since. He’s also a voting member of the International Cinephile Society (https://icsfilm.org/).

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