Runtime 119 minutes
Although people of a certain age are very familiar with the Tonya Harding – Nancy Kerrigan incident before the 1994 winter Olympics, Margot Robbie, who plays Harding in this biopic had never heard of either of them as she was raised in Australia and was a mere child when it all happened.
Even so, she does an outstanding job of playing Harding. Directed by Craig Gillespie, who was responsible for the dismal Lars and the Real Girl, and written by Stephen Rogers, this traces Harding’s life from when we first meet here at age 4 until the end of the film at age 44.
If you enter the picture with a preconceived notion of who Tonya Harding really is, as I did, this will be an eye opening experience. Burdened by a hard, loveless mother, Lavona Golden (Allison Janney), it doesn’t appear from this film that she ever had a speck of love from anybody in her entire life. Even when she is a precocious four-year-old ice skater, her mother cuts her no slack.
The movie is extremely well done both from a story point of view and for the execution, especially of the ice-skating scenes. I was amazed to see that Robbie was doing most of the skating, but there are tracking shots from her skates up to her face that make it pretty clear that most of the skating is done by her. It turns out that she had played ice hockey as a teenager so knew her way around ice skates. But figure skating is not ice hockey and there were some things she just could not do and needed a double, like the triple axel. Harding was the first woman to perform a triple axel so even the doubles couldn’t execute that, but movie magic makes it look like they did, although not many people will be sophisticated enough to know whether she did or not.
All of the acting is good. Sebastian Stan plays her first husband, intelligence-challenged Jeff Gillooly. But good as Robbie and Stan and Janney are the actor who stole the movie for me was Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Gillooly’s buddy, Sean Eckhardt, who turns out to be the real villain in the film. If Gillooly comes across as a witless dope, Eckhardt makes him appear Einstein-like. Hauser’s performance is one of the highlights of the film.
Because Gillespie interviewed most of the participants, especially Harding and Gillooly, and got such differing explanations of what happened from them, that’s the way he made his movie. Gillooly and Harding each tell their story from their point of view and it makes the movie far more interesting than it might have been as just a straight biopic.
It’s not as serious as it sounds as Gillooly and Eckardt stumble into the ultimate debacle by being just about as stupid as any human being could possibly be, all of which redound did to the misery of Harding.
If you don’t remember the incident, maybe the movie won’t be as meaningful. But I remember it very well and found the movie to be fascinating.