“I was loved, for a minute. Then I was hated.”
Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) started skating at the age of four. With the help of her mother (Allison Janney), Tonya makes it all the way to the spotlight for her talents as a skater. Enduring criticism from her mom and abuse from her husband, Jeff (Sebastian Stan), Tonya has to fight for everything that she wants.
Mothers are nurturers and caregivers. Tonya’s mother uses sharp edges to harden her daughter; while this technique works, serious damage is done to Tonya in the process. Instead of being soft and shiny the way the figure skating judges want their skaters to be, Tonya is tough. She’s so tough that when she gets caught up in the Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) drama, it’s not hard to believe her involvement in the scandal. To hear Tonya’s side, she was hardly involved at all.
These are real people so – again – no real diagnosis. Instead, what’s clear is that the relationship between Tony and her mother is atrocious. The relationship Tonya had with mommy dearest seems to play into a lot of Tonya’s adult decision-making, which is not uncommon. Add to it that Tonya and LaVona were spending so much time together, from the ice rink to their home, and that makes for a real mess of a mom-daughter bond.
There are a few characterizations of parenting styles. Tonya’s mother appears to be uninvolved, but not in the literal sense. She almost looks like a helicopter parent, from her watchful eyes on Tonya during skating practice to her presence at Tonya’s and Jeff’s first date. Where LaVona was uninvolved was in her show of affection for her daughter; that’s the key to this parenting style. Rather than encouraging Tonya or allowing her space to make her own choices, LaVona was constantly discouraging, naysaying, or otherwise threatening her baby girl.
Jeff and Tonya and Nancy…Oh My
American media is nobody’s friend. It’s comprised of a group of vultures trying to cherry-pick ratings-boosting stories for a 24-hour news cycle (which literally no one needs, ever). This story focuses not on Nancy Kerrigan and her feelings about THE INCIDENT, but on Tonya’s and Jeff’s attitudes and actions during that time.
The immediate concern is that neither Jeff nor Tonya are telling quite the same story. It’s hard to discern who is the liar and who, the truth-teller. We’re inclined to believe it might be Jeff because we know that the news has decided Tonya is a liar.
That’s the problem. The American media is not honest; it’s not unbiased; it’s not fair. Tonya is the child of a mom who was (probably) abusive and the ex-wife of an ex-husband who may have also been abusive. Tonya herself may have behaved in an abusive way because as she admits in I, Tonya, this was all she knew. People who grew up with abusive parents or parents with personality disorders often find partners that mimic those behaviors because that’s all they know. Even in danger, children of dangerous parents learn to acclimate to the danger. That’s what they know, and anything different – even if it’s safer – causes anxiety or discomfort. Luckily, that’s not a permanent problem. This isn’t to excuse anything that was done to Nancy Kerrigan, but the movie posits that perhaps Tonya was less involved than the news outlets wanted everyone to believe.
From the barrage of beatings she faced as a child and as a wife, the onslaught of hearsay she endured from the media was the last straw. As Tonya realizes, sometimes it’s cleaner to break away than to keep trying, and failing, to make peace.