But How Gay is ‘I, Tonya’?

· Updated on May 28, 2018

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is I, Tonya?
In the run-up to the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan had a dream. That dream was to win gold in their sport: figure skating. The two friendly rivals had a ton riding on their potential victory, both financially (for Tonya) and emotionally (for both). Then, someone hit Nancy in the leg with a baton, injuring her before a crucial qualifying meet. As the story goes, though, Tonya’s path was a little too intertwined with Nancy’s Tonya’s husband Jeff Gillooly had something to do with the injury. Exactly what is unclear; Tonya and Jeff tell wildly different versions of their story. But the fact remains that Tonya was blamed and made a joke. I, Tonya argues that she deserves redemption, all while telling the story in faux-mockumentary style.

Who’s in it?
Margot Robbie plays the titular Tonya, while Allison Janney chews every piece of scenery as her mother, LaVona. (Her delivery of the line “Well, my storyline is disappearing right now” is a high water mark.) Sebastian Stan gets the meaty role of Jeff Gillooly, weird facial hair and all. Interestingly enough, Nancy Kerrigan is an incredibly minor character in the film, played by relative unknown Caitlin Carver.

Why should I see it?
The Tonya and Nancy story is an endlessly fascinating one. It fits into that same niche of kitschy ‘90s crime stories a la O.J. Simpson and the murder of Gianni Versace that compelled Americans for the better part of a decade. You can imagine Ryan Murphy making a TV show about it. So it’s worth the watch for the story alone.

The movie itself is a little bit of a mess, likely largely because the source interviews with Tonya and Jeff were apparently wildly contradictory. But the editing is sharp, and Margot is incredibly winning as Tonya. It’s almost certainly going to nab her an Oscar nomination, if not an Oscar itself. She’s plenty of reason enough to go.

But how gay is it?
It’s not really gay at all. But it is queer.

There’s a temptation to call I, Tonya gay, because the story is one of major gay fascination. Two female figure skaters in a feud that left one of them injured and the other disgraced? That’s some Real Housewives shit. And Tonya is an iconbut again, more of a queer icon than a gay one. Since there are no gays in the actual story, we gotta rule this one un-gay.

You said the story’s queer; how so?
So this is an important distinction: The story of a woman scorned and laughed at by society trying to make something of herself is incredibly queer. It’s the kind of story all people under the LGBTQ umbrella can relate to in broad strokes. That fight for validity, for triumph above shame that’s queer. That does not, however, make the story gay. This is an oversimplified, but helpful, distinction: Queerness is thematic, while gayness is all about the content. Figure skating may be gay-beloved, but there are no gay skaters in here.

How will I, Tonya do at the Oscars?
Like I said, I’m banking on Margot getting nominated for an Oscar, and maybe winning. She’s in the right place to have an Oscar run in her career, and reception for the film has been warm so far. I think it’ll miss Best Picture, but should get plenty of nominations in under-the-line categories. (One it won’t get, however, is visual effects; the CGI of the figure skating is, to use the most technical term, hot garbage.)

Most interesting is whether Allison Janney will win Best Supporting Actress. It’ll be a tight race between her and Lady Bird’s matriarch Laurie Metcalf. At this point, I’d give Metcalf the edge, but it’s a long season ahead.

How do I learn more about Tonya and Nancy?
Watch the ESPN doc 30 for 30: The Price of Gold. Ordinarily I’d never recommend a sports doc, but this one is well worth it, and gives an even better understanding of the event than this movie does.

Anything else gay I should know?
Margot Robbie’s twink brother Cameron is real cute.

How is that about I, Tonya?
It’s not. I just thought you should know.

I, Tonya is in theaters now.

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