I, Tonya

Film, Drama
5 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
I, Tonya

Never an angel but definitely fallen, Tonya Harding receives belated dignity in the year’s most provocative biopic.

Not the movie the notorious ice-skating flameout Tonya Harding probably deserves – but happily (for us) the one she’s gotten – ‘I, Tonya’ is a dazzlingly complex and exuberant treatment of a disgraced figure. It flies along like ‘Goodfellas': Director Craig Gillespie never passes up the chance to needle-drop on classic rock (from Supertramp, ZZ Top, etc.) or break the fourth wall with an into-the-lens confession. But as with Martin Scorsese’s ‘I always wanted to be a gangster’ crime epic (or more aptly, Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’), the combination of supercharged style with so tawdry a story creates an unshakable tension, the kind that has you laughing and cringing at the same time. Ultimately, ‘I, Tonya’ feels like a major reclamation, not of Harding’s reputation but of the sports biopic itself, fallen into clichés since ‘Raging Bull’.

Setting the tone with a surly, confrontational stare and her fuming lit cigarette, Margot Robbie – making the most of this gift of a role – drops the film into the touchy realm of paranoia and class envy. She refuses to be judged in the film’s series of faux interviews, and even as Steven Rogers’s satisfying script sends us backward in time to the angelic young Tonya (Mckenna Grace from ‘Designated Survivor’) twirling on the ice, we’re never far from a scene in which money is the film’s not-so-secret subject. Her Oregonian mother, the raging LaVona (a revelatory Allison Janney, swearing up a storm), constantly browbeats her daughter about the cost of her skating lessons. (This becomes more than browbeating soon enough.) Dad skips out for good, and abandonment swirls with the snubs and bruises that will define the older Tonya’s resentment and competitiveness – like a blonde, triple-axeling Richard Nixon.

Robbie is superb in her moments on the ice, alternately gleaming and glaring at the officials who can’t stand this foul-mouthed outsider upturning their conceptions of the perfect princess. But she’s even better in the film’s depiction of her home life, strained by her marriage to an even needier person, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, emerging from under the lame moustache with ace timing); the two of them repeat learned patterns of abuse. I, Tonya crams so much broken psychology into its framework, it’s almost a miracle that the plot gets around to emphasizing Harding’s undeniable athletic ability, lost in the shadow of the unavoidable ‘incident.’

And what about Nancy? Kerrigan is barely seen, apart from that immortal postattack ‘Why?’ clip, and it’s a masterstroke, forcibly shifting our allegiances to an unlikely anti-hero. ‘I, Tonya’ is slippery on Harding’s own culpability; we meet several lunkheads, all of them entertainingly unsuited to pulling off any kind of crime, much less keeping their botched handiwork a secret. But that’s not the essence here. As camera trucks amass outside Harding’s house, we’re given an inside perspective into the dawning of a new kind of news story, pre-OJ, located at the nexus of fame, ambition and schadenfreude. Destroyed yet defiant, Robbie walks the emotional tightrope of the most fabulously, tragically American film of the year.

By: Joshua Rothkopf

Posted:

Release details

Rated:
15
Release date:
Friday February 23 2018
Duration:
119 mins

Cast and crew

Director:
Craig Gillespie
Screenwriter:
Steven Rogers
Cast:
Margot Robbie
Allison Janney
Sebastian Stan

Average User Rating

3.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:4
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|6
1 person listening
tastemaker

I really enjoyed the intense relationship Tonya has with her mother, this makes the whole film rather tense and dramatic.

The true story is reflected well and gives you a real competitive feel to their industry

Certainly worth a watch!

Tastemaker

A deft and entertaining film that manages to take on class, celebrity, ambition, and the unreliability of perspective. The breaking of the fourth wall is distracting initially, but it underscores how little is still confirmed about the Harding/Kerrigan case. It's also a gleeful get out of jail free card for the filmmakers to take liberties with "fact", as slippery a concept as that becomes. But the film seems frightened of embracing ambiguity too much; its sympathies are still clearly with Tonya, which makes her perhaps less complex and interesting a character than she is in real life.

Tastemaker

‘I, Tonya’ was one of this years ‘awards season’ films that I was most looking forward to and it turned out to be perhaps the one that divided me the most, leaving me uncomfortable about a great deal of what was portrayed on screen.


There are a lot of things that are great about it – the soundtrack for one is arguably the best of the year, bringing each part of the story being shown on screen to life with vivid colour and emotion. Allison Janney’s arrival on the ice to the tune of Cliff Richard’s ‘Devil Woman’ is one of the best scored entrances I can remember on screen ever. Visually, it looks great – the hairstyles & fashions of the 80’s shown in the sort of small town where big bucks and high fashion are never going to reside are brilliantly depicted and the ‘mockumentary’ style of film-making shown makes it easy to step into the lives of these people although frankly, all are so vile you’ll soon be looking round wondering how quickly you can step back out again.


As the titular Tonya, Margot Robbie is excellent, proving yet again that a pretty face and a strong screen talent need not always run parallel to each other. Defiant & gutsy, ultimately moving but never completely sympathetic, she has no problem in holding your attention and neither does winner-of-ever-award-going-this-year Allison Janney who completely inhabits mother-of-Tonya LaVona to the point where you can’t even remember that this is the woman who has brought to life countless other strong female characters over the past twenty years.


These are the things that I got, that I understood and that I enjoyed watching on screen in a car-crash, Jerry Springer fascination sort of way. What I found more difficult was the depiction of domestic abuse on screen. Perhaps it was the audience I was watching with but there was a lot of sniggering laughter at the scenes of early violence against Tonya by LaVona followed by a lot of gasps when husband Jeff – played very well by Sebastian Stan – took over the beating. I don’t understand how one of these things can trigger amusement and the other horror and I don’t think the film tackled either well enough to resolve this. 


There was a lot played for laughs – the people responsible for the actual knee-breaking of Nancy Kerrigan (a character given barely any screen time at all) were portrayed as being so stupid they were hilarious but I just don’t think the things they were doing can really be considered funny. I realise that at the very start of the film we are told that the accounts being shown are completely contradictory and that they are one side of the story but for me, that uneven story-telling left me with more questions than answers but no desire to watch any more that might have shed light. 


Difficult viewing but worth it as it's a fascinating if deeply unsettling insight into a crazy upbringing and marriage - although let's face it, whose life is normal? All the performances are top notch, but special mention has to go to Allison Janney, she is just incredible. Great soundtrack too. 

tastemaker

Those of us of a certain age remember the knee-cap incident clearly, as it was a story made in heaven for the media. An ice-skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan had a knee cap smashed supposedly by Tonya, prior to a big competition.How could she? Why did she? Did she? It seems that Tonya's then husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), was far more the villain than his talented, figure-skating wife, the first skater to attempt and execute the three and a half spin axel. Tonya, wasn't refined or well-behaved. Quite the opposite! Her mother, LaVona (played brilliantly by Allison Janet), effectively saw to that, neither loving nor supporting her daughter with years of expletives directed at Tonya. Rather pressurising, abusing and humiliating her privately and publicly.No-one would be able to grow into a 'normal' human being under such circumstances. Tonya suffered abuse from her mother and later from her husband. Poor girl! Poor woman!

Director, Craig Gillespie frequently breaks the fourth wall and the characters talk directly to us about events. It's effective as is the entire film.

Tastemaker

One of the most dramatic stories in sports.

She was different but gifted. She fought hard to get recognition and when finally got to the top, a 'mistake' brought her down to never recover.