Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.
“We also judge on presentation.” There are many meaningful lines in Craig Gillespie’s self-aware and very funny biopic I, Tonya, but that one — delivered by an aristocratic judge (Amy Fox) to the perennially underclass Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) after the latter demands to know why she’s not being scored fairly for her skating prowess — cuts to the core of the film’s themes. I, Tonya follows Harding’s skating career from when she was under the thumb of her abusive mother (national treasure Allison Janney) to its implosion after “The Incident” with Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), which Harding describes as “what you all came for.”
She later accuses the audience’s morbid interest in her tragedies as an extension of the abuse she suffered from her mother, as well as from Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillolly (Sebastian Sean). The metatextual level I, Tonya works on is that Robbie herself has always been judged on her presentation rather than her talent, and her highest-profile roles (Wolf of Wall Street, Suicide Squad) have often focused on her embodiment of the patriarchal beauty standard. De-glammed to play Harding, it turns out Robbie is also a great actor. Why couldn’t we see that all along? For that matter, why did Tonya Harding never get her due for her talent? Because we also judge on presentation.