- Unique style makes it personal and stand out
- Great soundtrack
- Goodfellas vibe to the whole thing
- Tracks a lot of Tonya’s life but the focus narrows in on “the incident”, improving structure
- Phenomenal performances, particularly Margot Robbie and Allison Janney in particular
You have to admit, I, Tonya came out at a pretty perfect time; with the Oscars just around the corner and the Winter Olympics in full swing, Margot Robbie’s latest ticks both boxes with a film about ice skating worthy of its three Academy Award nominations. Bringing a sporting legend to life, I, Tonya is a well-made, strangely captivating film.
Based on real and apparently “wildly contradicting” interviews with those involved, I, Tonya is a biopic that recounts the life of former competitive figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) from Portland, Oregon. Encouraged to pursue her talent and love of ice skating by her straight-talking, miserable, yet strangely dedicated mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), Tonya is soon picked up and trained by Diane (Julianne Nicholson). Despite all her talents, however, she never manages to be truly accepted in the figure skating world, with the judges wanting a graceful, good-girl image to portray their own biased view of America – something Tonya just isn͛t, having her own battles with her mother, husband and domestic abuse. Tonya perseveres though, balancing her volatile personal life with husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) with her ice skating, and soon becomes a national champion, aided by becoming the first American woman to complete a Triple Axel in a competition. Then it all starts to go wrong with ͞the incident͟. Beginning as just a misunderstanding with Jeff’s friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), things go from bad to worse, getting very complicated and start to ruin everything.
The style chosen by director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers is a unique, interesting one and works very well. Starting from her childhood and tracking her life up until the present (more or less), it’s absolutely a biopic, but it’s given a dash of personality and realism by occasionally having the style of a documentary, with the actors recreating the real-life interviews and the editing cutting the talking-heads to fit in seamlessly with the rest of the film – the nomination for editing is well-deserved. Having the actors break the fourth wall and talk to the audience, both in the talking heads and fitting into the action, makes the story seem a lot more personal and works well, also fitting with Tonya’s rebellious persona. In fact the constant personal narration (along with the fantastic soundtrack) gives off a strong Goodfellas vibe that works well.
Most of the film is about the characters though, the latter half specifically being about how they react and handle the aftermath of “the incident”. The cast are all wonderful, without a weak link. Even the comic relief in Paul Walter Hauser doesn’t detract from the film’s tone and is used in moderation to lighten things up. It’s especially refreshing to see Sebastian Stan flex his acting talents more than we often see him in the Marvel films, with his Bucky character relegated to just brooding and not giving off much of a character. Here however he’s given a chance to deliver a well-rounded, complex performance, playing a character we really shouldn’t like, but Stan makes the pathetic and aggressive Jeff almost sympathetic. This complex performance extends especially to the Oscar nominated performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Robbie makes a wonderful lead, fully embracing the “bad-girl” persona of Tonya Harding, while still making her empathetic and likeable. With such a charismatic, intricate performance, it’s not surprising she͛s been nominated. Janney in particular is one of the most interesting characters though, easily stealing every scene she’s in and really making the part her own. It would be so easy for her character to be seen as an abusive villain, but instead she makes her more complex than that. Like with all the characters, Janney’s excellent performance portrays her character as neither good nor bad, neither likeable nor unlikable. She’s a flawed person and is perhaps the best thing in the film.
I, Tonya is nothing if not refreshing; a uniquely styled biopic which breaks the fourth wall, is effortlessly entertaining and captivates audiences worldwide with flawless performances of very flawed characters. This one easily steals a gold medal.