"I, Tonya" Review
Margot Robbie has had a pretty big climb to fame in the past few years. She kicked off her Hollywood career in 2013 with The Wolf of Wall Street, then made a splashy cameo in Adam McKay’s 2015 hit The Big Short. She then achieved A-list status in 2016 with Suicide Squad and The Legend of Tarzan. Now in 2017, she’s hitting the awards circuit with I, Tonya, in which she plays the infamous figure skater Tonya Harding. Her performance is the highlight of the film, which is a semi-autobiographical story about one of America’s most beloved and most hated athletes.
The film opens with interviews from Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and her mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney). The interviews are taking place about a decade after the “incident” and are intended as a way for each of the characters to tell their version of what happened. In between the interviews we are treated to the story of how Tonya grew up as a redneck figure skater in Oregon. We witness her rough upbringing at the hands of her mother and how it affected her skating. After that, we see her meteoric rise to superstardom, all of which is constantly in jeopardy because of her rocky relationship with her simpleton of a husband, Jeff. And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the Nancy Kerrigan incident. We watch it go down, the due process immediately after, and how Tonya got caught up in a mess of stupidity.
What I can say is that this film doesn’t do anything wrong, it just does everything adequate or well. The handling of the story through interviews and flashbacks does well at establishing the chaos and insanity since each character gives conflicting reports as to what actually happened. The film also uses the fourth wall to have Tonya interact with the audience and extend the autobiographical nature of the story. However, the interviews lose steam about halfway through and are left dormant until the very end. It felt weird since they were heavily used in the beginning and are made to seem like the central medium for telling the story.
Director Craig Gillespie uses stylish editing and camera tricks to keep the story flowing at a quick and breezy pace. Some scenes are oversaturated with them, but overall the tricks serve their purpose well.
The behind the scenes work does a nice job at establishing a feel for the 80’s and 90’s. The hairstyles and fashion are timely and will make anyone who lived in that period feel nostalgic.
Last and most importantly, the performances carry this film all the way to the very end. Margot Robbie is astonishing as Tonya. She has the perfect mix of looks, personality, and skill to pull off the role. She plays Harding perfectly at every point in her career, especially at the lowest.
Allison Janney is also great as Tonya’s cold and unloving mother, LaVona. Janney goes full out in makeup and chain-smoking, giving an authentic portrayal of a mother that will never be satisfied with her children.
Sebastian Stan gives a good, but not great performance as Jeff. He does his best to make Jeff his own, but unfortunately gets overshadowed by Robbie and Janney. On a positive note, Stan shows off a wide range of emotions as Jeff slowly turns from a dumb nice guy to a violent madman.
I, Tonya delivers an entertaining and original way to tell a story that is well known by almost everybody alive. While it’s a good film caught in a time of great films, Robbie and Janney give career-defining performances that make this film deserving of your time.