Margot Robbie stars as Tonya Harding the infamous figure skater who never managed to live up to her considerable potential.
In 1991, Harding became the first American woman to complete a triple axel during a competition, seemingly setting her up for a prominent career at the top of her sport. However an ‘incident’, as that is what it is referred to throughout the film, involving a fellow competitor three years later becomes a notorious scandal, ending her career. I, Tonya tells the story of her roller-coaster career with a focus on the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother (played by Allison Janney), her husband (Sebastian Stan) and the media.
Tonya Harding is a self confessed redneck, with an absent father and an abusive mother; she was never going to fit in with the skating crowd despite being the best. Tonya was disadvantaged from the moment of her birth. Despite the film being a retelling of events from her perspective, it doesn’t paint her as blameless in her career failings. She makes poor life decisions, she’s reckless and she jeopardises her chances of real success.
The film uses staged documentary footage combined with live-action retellings of events from the life of Harding. Theses two elements are wonderfully edited together with some effective and often funny instances of fourth wall breaking. While being an effective comedic device, the fourth wall breaking is also a reminder to the audience that what we’re seeing is being told from a certain perspective.
Given the seriousness of the events of Harding’s life, the film never takes itself too seriously. It’s Goodfellas-esque, it’s arrogant, revelling in dark humour and bad language. The film decides not to focus too much on the horrible aspects of Harding’s life and at times, makes light of them. Instead, we’re shown glimpses, moments, intended to shock rather than to bog down the audience in misery. These moments are jarring, as they’re designed to be. It snaps the audience out of this pseudo-reality the film is set in. It cuts through the black comedy to maximum effect.
Margot Robbie delivers probably her most complete performance to date, fully earning her Oscar nomination. We know she can do loud and foul-mouthed but here she really stands out in the quieter, more reflective moments. Allison Janney brings a complexity to her character and she’s unapologetically brutal as Tonya’s mother. The scenes they share are the driving force behind the film, offering up the funniest and most brutal moments.
Director Craig Gillespie has delivered a wildly entertaining dark comedy which hits the right emotional beats when it needs to, bolstered by great performances all-round.
Riotous. Brutal. Funny
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