I, Tonya – 5 out 5
My formative years were in the 80s and 90s—yeah, I’m a 90s kid but I’m not a good one because I loathe nostalgia and don’t constantly share memes about how the 90s were supposedly the best decade (spoiler alert, they weren’t)—and being a tween and teen in the 90s I recall that infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Her cries of “Why?” have, unfortunately, gone on to become punchlines in some really hack material but, at the time, the whole event and orchestration of the attack was bonkers! So, how exactly do you take this real-life crime and tragedy and turn it into a dark comedy? Well, I, Tonya somehow did it and did it effectively well.
|Robbie captures the white trash-ness perfectly.|
Tonya Harding came from an abusive and broken background. Her family was poor and considered “white trash” but, despite this, she dreamed of becoming a figure skater. Her mother (Allison Janney) would do everything she could to help her—when she wasn’t throwing this effort into her daughter’s face that is. As she got older, Tonya (Margot Robbie) pushed herself to the Olympics but sees her effort in jeopardy due to the better and more popular figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. Tonya’s husband; Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), devises a plan that involves Kerrigan getting threatening letters that would scare her away from the competition but Tonya’s self-appointed bodyguard; Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), misreads the intention and sends men to attack Kerrigan and unintentionally send Harding into a spiral of fame that was the complete opposite of what she ever wanted.
|Thank glob they didn't show the wedding night. Don't Google what happened, kids.|
The skater’s upbringing and the story of Tonya Harding being unwittingly involved with the assault of Nancy Kerrigan and how it ultimately destroyed her career could have easily been a biopic filled with drama. The formula taken for I, Tonya, on the other hand, is a dark comedy that is told in a style that borrows from documentary filmmaking and includes some very amusing fourth-wall breaking. Taking this route took what could have been a very straight-forward and cookie-cutter approach and made it very dynamic and extremely engaging. It feels like the real Tonya is telling her story but told in a way that is just over-the-top and stylized enough to be fun but also somewhat believable. Without a doubt, this manner of story delivery commanded attention and was half the fun of this movie.
|Off camera, the boom mic operator said, "Longing, rusted, furnace, daybreak, seventeen,|
benign, nine, homecoming, one, freight car," and suddenly all hell broke loose.
|Insert reference about Marvel vs. DC here.|
The presentation is the highlight of this film, in my book, but coming in at a very close second is the performances. Margot Robbie is just a vulgar delight as Harding. She balances being obnoxious and tragic at the same time that it was easy to engross myself in the character. She’s backed up amazingly by the supporting cast and everyone is doing not only a fantastic job of emulating their real-life counterparts but doing an incredible job of bringing the events to life. Sebastian Stan is very amusing as Gillooly and he has some amazingly amusing sequences with Robbie. However, I think one of the most striking performances that the feature offers up is Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother. Janney is already a very talented performer but she was so captivating in this film that she pretty much stole every scene she was in.
|Seriously, Janney was incredible!|
The only real drawback I had for the film was its use of computer effects when it concerned the famous triple axel jump. Harding made the history books by doing this twice and Robbie, who isn’t a figure skater, couldn’t naturally be expected to do this. Additionally, there’s probably not many stunt people able to do it either so it just made practical sense to have this created with the help of digital effects. The end result isn’t terrible, mind you, because it could have been laughably created through the use of wires (and that would have looked just as bad) but it does stand out like a sore thumb at points and it was a tad distracting. Overall, however, this is only a problem in the moment and didn’t really harm the film as a whole.
|My skating style can be easily described as muttering "Please don't fall," over and over|
again and hoping for the best.
I, Tonya might be one of the most entertaining and amusing biopics I’ve ever seen. The film isn’t afraid to have some fun but doesn’t shy away from the tragedy that it revolves around what happened or deny that Harding is this interesting figure who is both a crass person and an individual of amazing drive and determination. The movie is put together tremendously well, has an authentic feel for the time period, has an absolutely delightful cast, and delivers a kick-ass soundtrack that provides great backup for the action taking place. Without a doubt, this might be one of the better biopics I've seen in my life.