MOVIE: I, TONYA
STARRING: MARGOT ROBBIE; SEBASTIAN STAN; ALLISON JANNEY
DIRECTED BY: CRAIG GILLESPIE
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The saga of Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan was one of the biggest stories of my teenage years. As far as I was concerned, Tonya Harding was the villain in every way, shape, and form. Harding was the rugged blonde, who smoked too much, and came from Portland, Oregon. Whereas Kerrigan was the toothy sweetheart, destined to win at the olympics. I, Tonya tells the story from the side of the villain and while we learn that story, it starts to flip, that just maybe, we had it all wrong? Maybe Harding wasn't a villain, but the victim? With one of the best performances of 2017 from Margot Robbie, I, Tonya is an often funny and eye-opening experience, that sticks the landing.
The time was the 90's, where the media was looking for the “next story”. There was constant coverage of the Menendez Brothers, or O.J. Simpson, or Bill Clinton's sex scandal. One after the other filled a growing news cycle. What director Craig Gillespie does, with a fantastic screenplay by Steven Rogers, is tell us what we didn't know, not what we already did by interviewing each character in a way that mimics Christopher Guest's Best in Show. Instead of focusing on the moment when Nancy Kerrigan had her knee hit with a club, leading to the infamous “Why me! Why!”, the focus is on Tonya, the various surrounding “characters”, the troubled, tumultuous, and successful skating career she had, before it was all turned upside down. Many people forget, Tonya Harding was a great skater, and sadly that's all she knew.
Rising to the occasion, in quite possibly her greatest work to date, is Margot Robbie. The Australian beauty is almost unrecognizable, with her hair pulled back in a big bushy pony tail, smoking cigarettes, and enduring the abuse that Tonya received from her overbearing, foul mouthed mother LaVona (played spectacularly by Allison Janney). Like a figure-eight on the ice, the violence that existed in the Harding household was circular. Mother LaVona was abusive non-stop, which resulted in a fatherless home, her retreating into ice skating, and a violent relationship with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) soon followed. Round and round it went, but damn was Tonya great at skating. She was fire on ice. She was just born into a home that made her the bad guy, a personality she began to embrace instead of shed.
Robbie's work shines, but there is a complete mixture of comedy, impressive skate sequences, and honest dialogue in I, Tonya. From her humble beginnings on the ice, to becoming the first american figure skater to complete the triple-axel at nationals, Tonya is followed by the love-hate relationship with those around her. This makes for a unique mixture of emotions for the viewer. The constant pressure from her mother and Jeff's inability to let go, leads to Tonya sinking into herself, and stupid choices made by those around her. The moments leading up to the fateful clubbing is both funny in it's stupidity and depressing because of the eventual consequences.
I, Tonya made me completely re-think my views of Tonya Harding. This is a movie that reveals the reality behind the TV drama, changing our minds on what we witnessed in front of our eyes. Many of the films flaws come from a predictable soundtrack and off-balance pace, but at least we're reminded that Tonya was a spectacular skater. Sure, she may have been a bit brazen and tougher around the edges, but it's not a reason to tear her down. Craig Gillespie's direction is strong, but it's the rise of Robbie which takes our breath away. It's called I, Tonya. And I, am a fan.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady