Wednesday 31 January 2018

Film Review: I, Tonya

Does I, Tonya stick the landing or crack under pressure? 

As someone who was born mere months before all this Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan stuff started to really kick off, I walked into Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya not knowing what to expect. It's one of those stories I'd heard or read about in passing, but never understood the ins and outs. Almost like all the specifics had been distorted and amplified through hearsay.

As it turns out, I, Tonya tells a tale that is stranger than fiction; you genuinely couldn't make this stuff up.

If you didn't already know, I, Tonya recounts the very public scandal surrounding disgraced American figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), who in 1994 was excommunicated from the sport and charged with assaulting a competitor. The subsequent media circus that dogged Harding, her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and her mother (Allison Janney) forms the basis of the movie, as well as a brief look at Tonya's rough upbringing and rocky family dynamic.

Kicking things off with a bit of swagger – Cliff Richard's Devil Woman is a rather unsubtle way of introducting Tonya's abrasive and abusive mother LaVona – director Craig Gillespie's film barrels through Tonya's childhood and into her young adult years with energy and panache.

Gillespie, whose two most recent films were sugary Disney movies, bestows Tonya Harding's rise and fall with panache and energy. Fleetwood Mac's The Chain soundtracks a key moment while Dire Straits and Supertramp also make an appearance on a great soundtrack. Peter Nashel's original score is familiar sounding for fans of sports films, but gives the film urgency and tragedy.

With present day mockumentary-style interviews serving as interludes to the story, screenwriter Steven Rogers adds humour and irreverence to proceedings, with multiple recounts of events from Robbie, Stan and others working as both a recurring gag and a commentary on Harding's trial by the media.

The film's main concern is plotting Harding's tough upbringing, doomed romance and tragic fall from grace, but Rogers also finds room in the screenplay to comment on rolling 24/7 news coverage, which packs up and moves onto OJ after Harding's ordeal is over, as well as America's tall poppy syndrome when it comes to celebrity figures or sports stars.

Robbie, Stan, Janney – everybody in the cast goes full tilt, with the blonde Aussie bombshell Robbie practically unrecognisable as a daggy redneck from heartland America. Serving as producer behind-the-scenes, you get the sense that Robbie really poured her heart into this film, like a showcase of what she can do after crappy blockbuster fare like Suicide Squad and The Legend of Tarzan.

Janney deserves all the plaudits as well, but it's Paul Walter Hauser as bodyguard Shawn that very nearly steals the show, especially in the second half of the movie.

The film also excels in turning Tonya into a sympathetic figure, albeit one who makes a lot of bad choices and is more often than not her own worst enemy. Cleverly, the film chooses to thrust Nancy Kerrigan to the periphery of proceedings; we feel for her plight, but this is Tonya's movie, and we're compelled to see both sides of this bizarre tale – even if that means sidelining the real victim in all this.

The only real thing I can fault the movie on are some really dodgy VFX that plonk a goofy version of Robbie's face onto, presumably, a stunt double during some of the more technical and complex skating sequences. They stand out like a sore thumb and could easily have been avoided by just putting some distance between the audience and Harding at key moments during her routine. It's really noticeable and takes you out of the film for a brief moment.  

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Who knew figure skating could be so captivating? I, Tonya is a brilliantly brash spin on a defining sporting moment from the 90s, with knockout performances from its lead trio.

I, Tonya is in cinemas across Australia now.


  1. I liked this too, it seems we all saw it at the same time, I just read about 5 other I,Tonya reviews lol. I agree about the CGI, it was a bit dodgy but I forgot about it really easily.

    1. Couldn't look away whenever Margot's CGI face on screen haha, it was so weird!



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