Quick Hit: This film puts an accusatory spin on the 24 hour news cycle.
For those of us that are a bit too young to remember the mid-nineties, it was really interesting to watch this take of The Tonya Harding Story. Tonya Harding, and of course, Jeff Gillooly, became some of the “stars” of the 90s – along with those like O.J Simpson, they became infamous in a way that few had become before. That’s the story that writer Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie chose to tackle, and the cast they surrounded themselves with is a good one. With Margot Robbie starring as Tonya, Sebastian Stan as Jeff, and Allison Janney as LaVona Golden, the majority of the performances in this movie are really, really good. But is the movie itself good? Let’s discuss further.
Told in a style that is both unique and intimately familiar, I, Tonya consists of a series of interviews as well as reenactments of the past. The reenactments also feature fourth wall breaking interviews. All these features (plus the presence of Robbie) combine to make it feel a bit like The Big Short. However, it also leads to a lot of confusion, because we also see characters directly contradicting what we just saw. Sometimes we also see scenes from multiple different perspectives. Sometimes we stop in the middle of a scene. While I admire the film’s team for attempting a radically different style, it continues to break up the narrative momentum of the film, and at times serves as a bit of a detractor.
The script itself isn’t bad though. We take a reckless, even frantic pace through Tonya’s childhood. Rogers consistently reminds us that Harding is the victim of abuse – abuse from her mother, abuse from her husband, abuse from the world of professional figure skating, and eventually, abuse from everyone that watches her scandal. This is a fairly delicate line to walk, because I, Tonya consistently plays up the laughs around these moments, and I think we can all agree that abuse is not a funny subject. However, the film allows itself to pause where necessary, and allow deeper thoughts to come across.
Though Robbie never disappears into the role (she doesn’t look that much like Ms. Harding), she completely owns the role and makes it believable. Her accent, coupled with her body language and intense vulnerability in the role gives the script more believability than it probably deserves. But the true standout is Janney. Hidden beneath a wig and huge glasses and an omnipresent cigarette, she gives an incredible performance as a woman who is rough because she wants her daughter to succeed and get out of the hell hole that she has lived in her entire life. And while the “tough because she cares” shtick is a bit worn out, and isn’t completely sold, I think that’s the beauty of her performance. You never truly understand it.
So is I, Tonya worth watching? Absolutely. And I think it’s deserving of the nominations that it received. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Janney took home the statue either for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. But the grade? That’s a “C+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"