Directed by Craig Gillespie
Reviewed by Brandon Bishop
“And thats the f***ing truth.”
Famous and infamous, former professional figure skater, Tonya Harding, is known for having been the first woman to complete a triple axel during skating competition and for having allegedly been involved with the assault of fellow professional skater Nancy Kerrigan. In I, Tonya, Margot Robbie portrays Harding, accompanied by Alison Janney as Lavona Harding, Tonya’s mother, and Sebastian Stan as Tonya’s abusive husband, Jeff Gillooly.
I, Tonya recounts the professional skating career of Harding from a very young age. Margot Robbie brings a lot of attitude to the role but in an honest and believable way. The film examines her life through a sardonic and satirical lens, but it doesn’t fail to hit us with the pain felt by Harding throughout her life. Alison Janney provides a fascinating foil to Robbie as her terse, jaded mother. Tough love doesn’t really describe their relationship. Janney knocks it out of the park in a roll that has already garnered Oscar attention. Sebastian Stan unfortunately gives a passable performance, at odds with his talent. He’s not bad by any means and garners a few laughs, but he has trouble standing next to Robbie and Janney. His best friend Shawn, however, played by Paul Walter Hauser, gets some of the biggest laughs in the movie. Shawn talks a big game but he is delightfully clueless and loves every minute of the attention he gets from the FBI and the press regarding “the incident.” Also of note, the filmmakers give each of the characters an appearance that just peeks over the line of ridiculousness. Often just seeing in a new scene can illicit a chuckle.
I, Tonya tackles some heavy subject matter but gets by because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It does seem a little convenient that Harding keeps returning to Gillooly, despite repeated physical abuse. It’s difficult to say whether her reasons for returning were simplified to keep the movie going, but it does get frustrating as the film goes on. She’s a little rough around the edges, but she’s talented and doesn’t need an abusive man in her life. The physical abuse from Jeff and the verbal abuse from her mother certainly add context, but push the movie into heavier territory than it seems like it wants. That said, the humor, emotion, and dark satire make I, Tonya a more than satisfying film, and it poses the question: what would you do in that situation? It adds a lot of layers to the satire. Joyously demented but equally heartfelt, the movie works because Robbie’s and Janney’s performances make it so much more than an athlete biography or dark comedy.