Jacob Richardson | 06/02/2018
Frequently hilarious, and anchored by tremendous performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, I, Tonya skates its way into your heart pretty quickly.
Following the rise and fall of American skating superstar Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), I, Tonya focuses on the competing stories around the infamous assault of fellow Olympic level skater Nancy Kerrigan, exploring the varying versions from her mother (Allison Janney), her ex-husband Jeff Gillooley (Sebastian Stan), and her self-proclaimed bodyguard and international man of espionage Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser).
Director Craig Gillespie takes a moment in history that is widely contested by the many potential participants and somehow melds all of the stories together in a way that at once feels like it’s linear, and displaying the competing theories from the different sources. He’s aided by his choice to include fourth-wall breaking direct to camera asides from the likes of Tonya and Jeff, interspersed with documentary style talking head pieces. It’s an innovative, surprising and, at first, abrasive way of confirming that nothing you are seeing is actually confirmed to have happened, and it sucks you into the mystery and intrigue of the story rapidly.
Robbie is tremendous as Tonya, bringing a sort of innocent, backwater pathos to the character that makes her incredibly sympathetic. She takes to the skating challenge with aplomb, although for some of the more difficult tricks a CGI version of her is utilised (there actually wasn’t a skater in the world at an appropriate age who can, still to this day, do the triple axel that Tonya Harding is so famous for). Robbie perfectly charts the rise and fall of this character, her every glance detailing her long-held feelings of abandonment, her history of abuse and her longing for something more.
Allison Janney is an utter delight – a foul-mouthed, cantankerous has-been who, abandoned by her daughter, takes to carrying a bird on her shoulder all the time. It’s easy to see why she garnered earlier awards recognition, because she is just so good – a lightning rod of laughter for the duration of the film.
If there’s a weak link, it’s with Sebastian Stan, who comes off a bit Coen-brothers Matt Damon in the talking head pieces, and feels almost too loveable in the more abusive scenes chronicling his early relationship with Tonya. Additionally, while CGI was necessary for some of the skating tricks, it is also incredibly obvious when it switches from live action to computer generation, somewhat taking you out of your admiration for the remarkable feats of skating ability.
I, Tonya brings an interesting storytelling angle to an otherwise relatively standard story. Featuring brilliant performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, it’s much better than it had any right to be, if not as good as it could have been.