If this wasn’t based on a true story, you really would not be able to make it up because there are just so many ‘what the ****?’ moments in this movie, it’s like the Jeremy Kyle Show meets the Nightmare Neighbours Next Door.
Tonya Harding (Robbie) grew up poor and brash on the wrong side of the tracks in Portland, Oregon. Her way out was ice skating, but her precarious rise to the top of the profession was marred by an abusive upbringing, an equally abusive marriage and a level of snobbery within the profession (darling, if you don’t have a fur coat you can’t possibly make it!) that is eye-watering. Then, there’s that incident, when her closest ice-skating rival is attacked in a bid to leave Tonya out there in a league of her own.
This mockumentary shows Tonya’s life warts and more warts, starting with her relationship with her tougher than tough-love mother (Janney on scathing form — she’s already won a BAFTA and is a shoe-in for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) who thinks abusing your child is the way to fame and fortune. In a bid to escape her, Tonya marries an equally abusive man (husband Jeff played by Sebastian Stan) who thinks the way to reason with his wife is to punch her full in the face.
The film follows Tonya’s life from child to adult as a kind of tragi-comedy (although many of the laughs are painful to watch) until we get to that defining moment — in 1994, when ice-skating’s golden girl Nancy Korrigan (Carver) is kneecapped in a bid to take her out of competition.
Tonya’s husband and dimwit accomplice are found guilty of the crime, but how much did Tonya know about their plans and was she silentlycomplicit? Tonya says not, but watching the film there are so many times when you think ‘this can’t be true, director Gillespie must be making this up’ and then discover that actually he’s not, that truth, fiction and distortion in order to tell a good story become so entwined, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
The acting is uniformly good (Janney is a tour de force), the recreated ice-skating scenes are brilliantly realised and the whole thing romps along so seamlessly you won’t believe two hours have passed when you get to the end credits that come with vintage footage that shows just how true to events this larger than life film really is.