Movie Review: ‘I, Tonya’
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace
Plot: Tonya Harding rose to fame in the professional figure skating circuit while battling the perception that she, being a self-described ‘redneck’, doesn’t belong. At the peak of her fame Harding became embroiled in scandal when he ex-husband was involved in an attack on her rival skater Nancy Kerrigan.
Review: This is certainly one of those ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ scenarios, where the concept of subterfuge and hired hits on figure skaters would be a tough sell if it hadn’t spent months being splashed across tabloids.
Drawing on interviews with key figures including Harding (Robbie), her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Stan), her mother LaVona (Janney) and her coach Rawlinson (Nicholson). The actors reenact these interviews and they get used as a framing device for the story, beginning with Harding beginning training as a figure skater as a talented four year, her struggles fitting in with the elitist community and her meeting and subsequent relationship with Gillooly.
Easily the hardest hitting aspect of this story is the much reported on abuse Harding endured throughout her life. This is depicted in an occasionally shocking fashion as we see the verbal and physical abuse she endured from both her mother and husband. The film emphasises that there are conflicting stories about what really happened during these years, even going so far as to show alternate views. Harding is certainly cast as the victim but at times the film feels afraid to take sides.
Margot Robbie is driving this vehicle and it’s unsurprising that there’s been plenty of award buzz around her performance. Robbie has been one of the most celebrated talents of the last few years and this is her first major leading role (she just had to produce the film herself to make it happen). As good as she is I’m left with the feeling that we haven’t seen her best performance yet, that she’s still to really hit her peak as a performer. Robbie is almost upstaged by Allison Janney as her mother LaVona, playing against her usual type to bring a crass, foul mouthed and abusive venom to the story. Janney has already picked up a handle of awards and will likely get more.
As strong as the individual elements of the movie are – the performances, the style, the soundtrack – there’s something missing in the way it all comes together. On occasion the film cuts between different versions of events, and some character threads get left hanging at the end of the film. We get no insight into Nancy Kerrigan, in spite of her being an integral aspect of the story. The film needed a stronger central thread to hang all the characters off.
So it’s a good movie, but nothing Earth shattering. It feels like they worked hard to make it Oscar bait to the detriment of everything that was already working in their favour. Worth seeing for the style and the performances.
Rating: SEVEN out of TEN