In many ways, “I, Tonya” is the perfect American story. Somebody becomes successful, despite a terrible upbringing, then becomes a defiant celebrity that everybody loves to hate. Toss in a crime that defines her and the over-the-top people around her and you have a very entertaining story.

There’s a certain guilt that comes with being so thoroughly entertained by “I, Tonya” -— after all, the climax of the story is a real-life attack that could have ended an athlete’s career. But the film is just so well-made, and the story so unbelievably strange, that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.

Presented as a series of interviews and flashbacks, “I, Tonya” follows the life of figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), from her abusive upbringing by her mother LaVona (Allison Janney), to her successful figure skating career and not-so-successful marriage to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), to “the incident” (as the characters call it) and its fallout.

The supporting actors give “I, Tonya” a lot of flair. Allison Janney earned an Oscar nomination for playing LaVona Harding — well-deserved. LaVona is an awful mother, and Janney makes us hate her while also giving us tantalizing hints of a more complex character — a profoundly sad woman with a disappointing life. I also really enjoyed Sebastian Stan’s portrayal of Gillooly, and Paul Walter Hauser was screamingly funny as Harding’s very strange bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt.

But “I, Tonya” lives and breathes with its titular character, and Margot Robbie deserves her Oscar nomination, too, for playing the complicated and strangely compelling Tonya Harding. Let’s face it — Harding is not, on the surface, particularly likable in this movie. She narrates much of the film, and she spends a good chunk of her time explaining why anything bad that happens to her is not her fault. She’s defiant, foul-mouthed and an altogether trashy person. But then Harding breaks your heart, as she talks about her awful relationship with her mother and the way that she accepted years of abuse from Gillooly because she thought that meant he loved her, and the way that the figure skating world never truly accepted her, despite the fact that she was a technically phenomenal skater, because she was poor and unpolished. Even though she wasn’t always a good person, I came out of the film with a new appreciation for Harding - her athleticism, her resilience and her grit.

“I, Tonya” gives us a wonderful mix of dark humor and genuinely compelling human drama, all wrapped up in a stranger-than-fiction story. Like the news reports of the time, you feel a little bit guilty for gawking at the spectacle, but you also can’t look away.

Jenny’s Take: See it tonight.

(Rated R for pervasive language, violence and some sexual content/nudity. Runs 120 minutes.)

Jenny Kobiela-Mondor writes movie reviews for KPC Media Group. Her columns are posted at A link to her blog can be found from her columns at She blogs at

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