Figure skating isn’t really at the front of mainstream culture anymore, and so many will only know bits and pieces about Tonya Harding. This film, directed by Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm), is a biopic of sorts – charting Tonya’s journey to the top of the figure skating game and her fall from grace from it. It involves her relationship with her mother (Allison Janney) and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) as they dip in and out of her life. The film is told through re-enacted interviews played by the actors and is occasionally structured in a non-linear fashion.
One thing to instantly like about the film is its attitude towards true stories. It quickly admits the fact that events change depending on who you speak to, thanks to foggy memories and selfish perspectives. This means that often what the film shows may not be factual, but are truths of some sort – a theme the film delves more into at the very end. I liked this, because it made the film more in touch with reality. The film is also portrayed mostly in a farcical, comedic fashion, almost like a Scorsese picture. Similar in the way that The Wolf of Wall Street poked fun at its outrageously true events, I, Tonya kept a mocking – mostly light tone throughout. This worked because the narrative fitted, and even though the comedic elements didn’t always land, I think for the most part they felt suitable.
Margot Robbie is electrifying in this film and really drives it. It’s a true performance, where she captures every element of the character. She gets her like-ability, but also Harding’s tendency to be brash and aggressive. I loved watching Robbie in this film, and honestly she’s my choice for the Oscar. It was nice to see Sebastian Stan in a different role than his marvel universe turn, and he does well in a difficult screen presence. Allison Janney is essentially a caricature of the horrid mother and she does this superbly. There is no redemption for her character and Janney plays her disdain for her daughter with such evil eyed skill. Also Paul Walter Hauser gets a mention as Shawn, Harding’s bodyguard, because he’s hilarious.
This film is very entertaining, and very well put-together. The editor Tatiana S. Riegel masterfully crafts the fast moving plot-lines, to make them nuanced and inter-connected. Its cuts back and forth between little moments seamlessly, which leads the film to be totally engrossing. When the film ended I was upset that there wasn’t more, though it fulfilled everything it had to say. This is one I’d recommend to anyone, and the odd problems it has (some of the skating scenes were shot better than others) are glossed over by a ridiculous story and a rousing central performance from Robbie. Craig Gillespie is one to watch in the next few years.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?