Seeing I, Tonya was an adventure, which for me began long before the film even started – I struggled to even get to the film. It was raining, I missed three busses and I had to run to make it to the screening, and even then I only sat down just as the company logos were coming on. So was is worth the struggle? Hell yes! Boy was this a good film. It was more than that. It was an experience!
First off – the acting is phenomenal. Without a question, this is Margot Robbies’ film, and it is a triumph. I know it’s cliché to say, but Robbie is Tonya Harding, it’s as simple as that. She embodies Hardings’ passion, Hardings’ spirit – and most of all, Hardings’ soul. Robbie has consistently churned out great performances in smaller roles, think Naomi Lapaglia in The Wolf of Wall Street or Harley Quinn in 2016’s dire Suicide Squad. It’s gratifying to see Robbie grab Hollywood by the horns with a gutsy leading role and smash it out of the water! Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding is one of those performances that feels seminal, like de Niro in Raging Bull or Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. Like Harding doing the triple axel, it’s hard not to admire an artist so masterful at their craft.
That’s not to say Robbie overshadows the supporting cast. It’s hard to dominate a performance like Allison Janney as Hardings’ abusive mother, LaVona. As much as Robbie transforms into Harding, Janney becomes LaVona, in an equally transformative, brutal performance. Janney is barely recognisable from her TV roles on Masters of Sex or The West Wing. Meanwhile Sebastian Stan deftly portrays Hardings’ likable, manipulative on-off husband, while Julianne Nicholson whiles away as Hardings’ long suffering coach. I would mention Paul Walter Hausers’ portrayal of Shawn Eckardt in greater detail, it was a great performance after all, but I…I just wanted to punch him. Surely that’s the sign of a job well done?
If Robbie is the star, then Craig Gillespies’ effortlessly assured direction is the night sky that surrounds it. Coupled with Nicolas Karakatsaniss’ gorgeous cinematography, Gillespie concocts a lush world into which we are invited. I, Tonya has almost as much character as the people it depicts, bowling forward with relentless passion and momentum, pausing only for breathtaking ice skating scenes (the first of which sent shivers down this reviewers’ spine!). Indeed, there was one shot, a long take, which made my jaw drop. Scorseses’ influence is all over the place throughout the film, from the brilliant, bombastic soundtrack to the inventive cinematography. This is one of the best looking films in years, and certainly one of the best directed!
The films’ pacing is aided by interviews and fourth-wall-breaks, which allow the film to breathe, and play around with structure and give writer Steve Rogers a chance to explore the story in a way that feels vibrant, and fresh. Like Goodfellas on cocaine. Rogers also doesn’t shy away from the absurdity of the situations. There’s a lot of comedy in I, Tonya, a lot more than I expected going into it. It’s a darkly funny film.
All that is well and good, but I did have a few flaws. Robbies’ first appearance as a teenage Harding is a little jarring due to the clear age difference, but it doesn’t take long for everything to settle. Skipping ahead in the film, the ending is a little abrupt for my taste, and some of the scenes from the trailer came across as a little wooden within the context of the film itself. But that’s small fries compared to what I loved, which was everything else.
A critic described I, Tonya as “the Goodfellas of figure skating”, and I think that sums it up pretty well. There’s not much else I can say really. Go see it!