I don't recall anything about ice skating history in the last 29 years. And I've just turned 30. So to me, the real story of Tonya Harding was actually a mystery. I've enjoyed the movie in an absolutely simple way: I sat down in a dark theatre room and followed the story without any bias.
Tonya was certainly a complex character to be portrayed on the screen: raised by an alcoholic mother, with the constant pursue of perfection to her daughter, plus a violent husband used to punch her in the face to establish his role.
"Never enough" and "too much" could have been their only dialogue lines. So Tonya is actually trapped in between. Trying to escape from her reality since childhood, she will be trapped by her own inability to take action for herself. She's trapped and victim of her missing strength to battle for herself, to distinguish herself from a network of people more interested in having the role of the power.
Tonya is a clear example, not often seen, of a character unable to choose. We can either choose for the good or the bad, but it's in picking a side that we, as a character and as human beings, decide who we want to be. Applied to little and big things, it actually unveils where the character is going and why.
The problem with a character unable to choose, or too insecure
to trust her gut is that the audience unlikely relates to her.
You don't have to symphatize with a character, but to emphatize with her. Trying to making it clear and simple... you don't have to like her, but you should be able to feel the struggle or the joy of what happens to her.
But in "I, Tonya" Tonya herself she has no power at all. She's is a pawn on a chess board ruled by selfish and mean persons. Think about the scene when her mother comes to visit in the middle of the rush of the media and she's trying to record Tonya to have a scoop: this is the most terrible betrayal from her mother.
What I've noticed is that many other movies are about the difficult relationships between a mother and a daughter. In Lady Bird, Christine is trying to define her personality and the conflict with her mother is one of the way. Even a missing mother, like in Baby Driver, can be a more powerful drive to grow up, according to a passion, the music, or a way of living. But Tonya has nothing like that. Her mother is there constantly to remind her about all the sacrifices she did, to allow her to skate which didn't lead to any great success.
However, in 1991, she earned distinction as being the first American woman to successfully land a triple axel in competition, and only the second woman to ever do so in history (behind Midori Ito). She is also a two-time Olympian and a two-time Skate America Champion.
But she wasn't good enough.