“I, Tonya” Review: Robbie Shines in this Unique Biopic

The world hasn’t thought much recently of the once ice skating queen, Tonya Harding and her subsequent fall from grace after the Nancy Kerrigan “incident.” What really happened? Did Harding know about this? Was her ex-husband that big of a misogynistic ass?  Will I, Tonya give audiences the answers they’re looking for? Well, not quite, but that doesn’t mean the Craig Gillespie directed fourth-wall breaking biopic isn’t an entertaining ride, for the most part.

Margot Robbie stars as the former competitive ice skating champ, the first woman to ever complete a triple axel in competition. The film is based on “mostly true, wildly contradictory” actual interviews from the people represented in the film. It starts with overlapping mock interviews based on the actual interviews that we get a glimpse of as the end credits begin to roll. Right out of the gate, the tone for I, Tonya is riding the line between self-aware satire, a straightforward biopic, all molded together with a dark comedic undertone that is present throughout its almost 2-hour runtime. Fans who were old enough to remember the career of Harding and Kerrigan may be put off by Gillespie’s unorthodox tone, but I found it to be a fresh breath of air during the always serious and depressing Oscar season.

Robbie is transformative as Harding, showcasing most of her acting chops in mock interviews and especially magnetic scenes with a terrific, yet terrifying Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s mother, LaVona Golden. Janney’s work here is flawless, playing the despicable, ruthless and abusive mother who, for lack of a better term, doesn’t give a crap. She say’s exactly whats on her mind, does what she wants to do and all with no repercussions from her daughter who just wants her mom. 

LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) at work in I, TONYA, courtesy of NEON

While Sebastian Stan does an admirable job as the equally despicable ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, he does have a few moments where the actor tried a little “too hard,” with several scenes of overacting and contradicting actions. I never felt a transformation from when we first meet him as an innocent high school boy, who has a crush on the blonde award girl from school to a full-fledged abusive alpha male striking Tonya whenever she sneezes the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine performance, but I started to hate every time he’s on screen (which I suppose is the point.)

The skating sequences are excellently crafted, with long, steady tracking shots that almost sell the illusion that Robbie is actually the one pulling off these jumps and spins. Sometimes it’s apparent that one minute Robbie’s face is shining and smiling in all her glory, and the next is either a stunt-double or some Rogue One esque CGI recreation of Robbie’s face. A small nit-pick in an overall set of gorgeous sequences.

I, Tonya isn’t a game changer of the biopic genre, but it’s definitely a refreshing one. The satirical self-awareness is something to admire, while the score ads some adrenaline fueled 80s and 90s hits throughout. Robbie may be the star of the show, but Allison Janney steals it.

**1/2 

@Nick_Casaletto

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