I, Tonya Review
The sporting world is no stranger to scandal. Cheating, doping, stalkers, some days it seems like we’ve seen it all. But arranging for one of your rivals to be injured in an attempt to prevent them from attending the Olympics? That is something else. Following the life of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), Olympic figure skater, from her childhood under her formidable mother LaVona (Allison Janney) to her marriage to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and her desperation to be the best at any cost.
What director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers does with I, Tonya is very interesting. The movie is a story of overlapping and, at times, contradictory voices, with recreated interviews (we see in the credits just how faithfully some of these were recreated) and a few breaking the fourth wall moments. At times it almost has the feel of a true crime documentary with the end effect makes for a film that is messy, but in a way that kind of matches its subject and is thoroughly interesting and entertaining throughout, with a 80s/90s soundtrack to match.
What really makes the film shine brighter than an Olympic gold medal is the performances. Margot Robbie - also a producer on the film - plays all the shades of Tonya Harding with sincerity and a refreshing and, at times, admirable ferocity. She even plays the teenage Harding with genuine adolescent awkwardness despite how initially jarring and confusing it is when you realise that the 27-year-old Robbie is playing a 14-year-old. What you can never escape from, however, is that there is something tragic that runs through the heart of Robbie’s performance. We see Tonya frequently ostracised in the skating community for her lower-class background and her pain at the arbitrary standards she is being held to when she wants her skating to be judged just on her skating and nothing else.
We also see the various forms of abuse she suffers at the hands of both her mother and her husband Jeff. She is pitiable, and you feel for her and want her to get that shot when skating is the only thing that makes sense to her in life and all that she really cares about. Hers is a story of fighting, making her way up only to be pushed back down time and again, however, nothing justifies the events that she may, or may not, have been a part of. Sebastian Stan plays a very different character to what we have seen from him before as Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s ex-husband. It’s also no difficult thing seeing why the always amazing Allison Janney has been multi-award nominated for her role as LaVona Golden. She is a powerhouse, dominating every scene that she is in, and you constantly find yourself watching her, searching for a clue of LaVona's real feelings towards her daughter (or any affection) in an inscrutable face.
Where the film suffers a little is that maybe it would have benefitted from being further from the real-life events. This isn't helped by the fact that we never get to hear anything from Nancy Kerrigan. She is something of a nonentity in the film, an object referred to rather than an actual person that went through this horrible assault that the whole film is leading up to. Despite a few hiccups, I, Tonya is a fascinating look at one of the most infamous moments in Winter Olympics history. Get your skates on and check it out.