Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.
‘I, Tonya’ is a superb, energetic biopic about Tonya Harding, the US figure skater who gained infamy in the early 90s when she was implicated in an attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan. The film takes a mostly sympathetic view towards Harding, as we follow her career from her early interest as a little girl to the talented upstart who regularly clashed with the figure skating establishment. On this journey the film explores her relationships with her mother and her husband of the time, and we get a sense of how this drove the underdog mentality Harding fostered and used as her primary motivation as she went out on the ice. The film uses a mockumentary framing device with the key players being ‘interviewed’ and the fourth wall regularly being broken in the middle of various events, and it’s a ballsy approach that works incredibly well for this story. Everyone involved in Harding’s life has conflicting views on how things went down and this approach allows the events to play out differently based on the recollections of the various unreliable narrators.
Margot Robbie is phenomenal as Harding, incredibly her first solo leading role after eye catching supporting turns in the likes of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ amongst other things. It’s a strong cast overall (although Bobby Cannavale doesn’t add a huge deal, much as I like him) and Allison Janney will likely win a deserved Oscar for her turn as Tonya’s vicious mother LaVona, a real piece of work from the way she is depicted here. The film is outrageously funny, which is no small feat for a film that contains a lot of domestic violence and complicated, toxic relationships between almost all of the characters, and the terrific soundtrack had me tapping my toes throughout. I’m a sucker for stupid criminals (the Coen Brothers are arguably the masters of this) and the relaying of the Kerrigan attack (it’s ‘what we’re all here for’ as Tonya says to the camera) is hilariously told, showing how the idiots involved were caught in record time by their own stupidity. That brings Paul Walter Hauser’s Shawn Eckhardt into the frame and I was in stitches every time he appeared on screen, and I’ll certainly be interested to see more from him in the future.
I didn’t know the details of Harding’s career, nor much about the Kerrigan attack, so that did add an intensity and excitement to the film, particularly when we saw her competing. I think the filmmakers and Robbie did a great job of showing the wonderful talent she had and I did find myself rooting for her to succeed, even after the Kerrigan attack and the well judged ambiguity about whether she knew about it or not. ‘I, Tonya’ brings her story to life fantastically well and I thought this was a terrific piece of entertainment and it’s one of my favourite films of the year to date.
Directed By: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Caitlin Carver, Bojana Novakovic, Paul Walter Hauser and Bobby Cannavale