I, TONYA (USA / 15A / 119 mins)
Directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale.
THE PLOT: Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) did everything the hard way. It didn’t help that she had an overbearing, unsympathetic mother in LaVona (Allison Janney), who drove her to achieve great things in ice skating when she was young. LaVona even came to Tonya’s first date with Jeff (Sebastian Stan), a dim but earnest guy whom she later married. However, a pattern of physical abuse repeated itself and she had a fractious relationship with him. Then one day, Tonya’s rival / friend Nancy Kerrigan had her knee bashed in by an assailant. The spotlight is turned on Tonya straight away, with the Olympic skater forced to confront another unsympathetic audience…
THE VERDICT: ‘I, Tonya’ finally arrives on these shores, after scoring a number of awards and three Oscar nominations in recent weeks. Does it live up to the hype? Yes… and no. It very much fits the slot of the Oscar-nominated film that got lucky. In that sense, it’s a performance-driven film which otherwise masks a loosely-structured story. That’s not to say it’s a bad film by any means. It’s just that audience expectations shouldn’t be set too high for it.
There was a major media scrum over Harding in the 1990s, a sports scandal that caused shockwaves. However, she was unfairly vilified by the press after pleading guilty to hindering the prosecution of the real culprits. At least, that’s what this sympathetic portrayal of Harding is telling us. It works though and it’s hard not to be swept along with the story and feel some sympathy for her. Harding was something of an outsider, a young woman from a rough background who didn’t fit the image of sporting success that the Olympic Committee wanted to sell to the world.
Director Craig Gillespie, coming off two real-life films for Disney, has crafted a warts-and-all tribute to Harding and her battle for recognition. There’s no doubting her talent – she was a complete natural on the ice. The film flits over the course of decades and the key characters in Harding’s story. Gillespie tries to cover too much here, with the result that the narrative structure is loose and lacking focus. Zeroing in more on ‘the incident’ would have helped, as well as giving a proper voice to Kerrigan.
However, the flawless performances make up for this. Robbie once again loses herself in an unflattering character, which pushes her considerable range and taps into some of that anarchic Harley Quinn vibe. There’s no faulting Janney’s award-winning performance either, by turns funny and kick-in-the-nuts blunt. Even Stan’s dim-bulb husband comes across as goofy and likeable, while keeping his questionable behaviour in check. There’s a lot to enjoy here, as long as you don’t pick too much at the faults. ‘I, Tonya’ wobbles occasionally, but it’s worth seeing for the performances alone.
RATING: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor