In a way, I’m a bit shocked that a movie about Tonya Harding hasn’t been made. The fact that Ryan Murphy didn’t immediately announce that Harding’s attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and the subsequent trial centered on the incident as the season-two focus of American Crime Story surprises me even more. No matter now, however, as a project based on the incident is indeed underway, with Margot Robbie set to star as the talented figure skater who ordered Kerrigan to be beaten in the name of her athletic aspirations. And on top of Robbie’s involvement, Variety is reporting today that the film will be directed by The Finest Hours filmmaker Craig Gillespie, who came on the scene with the divisive and deeply strange Lars and the Real Girl.
This would be a bit of a change of pace for Gillespie, who has gone brazenly mainstream with his last two films, the aforementioned The Finest Hours and the Jon Hamm-led Million Dollar Arm. Neither of those films are worth anyone’s time, nor are they particularly bad; they’re just thoroughly by-the-book and stunningly unremarkable. His most entertaining work, however, has been on the shockingly strong remake of the 1980s horror classic Fright Night, where he gave Colin Farrell one of his best roles to date and showed a convincing handling of horror genre tropes and moody tone. Still, that film isn’t exactly a radical work of big-studio production. Indeed, for all the not-exactly-undue flack that Lars and the Real Girl has received over the years, at least its distinctly personal and odd feature, anchored by the considerably talented Ryan Gosling. The Harding project, being called I, Tonya for now, would return him to a place that has more to do with big, complicated emotions, and has, at its core, the seedling of a fascinating study of professional athletic ambitions which any long-working filmmaker could make hay out of.
Of course, there’s no way of knowing what part of Harding’s story that Gillespie will dig into at this point, and there’s a good chance that this could all come out as bland as Gillespie’s last two films, though I have faith in the story being able to make up for deficiencies in imagery and writing. The one thing that this film has going for it already is Robbie, who has shown a propensity for elevating mediocre material (Hi there, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!) and looks to be the best part of at least one major 2016 release, namely Suicide Squad. With her in the lead, and the equally promising role of Kerrigan yet to be filled, Gillespie has a big opportunity with this one. Here’s hoping he’s got the chops to make something unique out of such memorable and ghastly bit of sports history.