#REVIEW: “I, TONYA”
So you think you know disgraced figure skating champion Tonya Harding right? Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) delivers a blunt tour-de-force to the kneecap in this darkly-comical yet empathetic look at the tragic fall of a champion.
While it was a bit of a tough sell at first picturing glamorous and stunning Margot Robbie in an unflattering light, Awards Season is all about transformations and the Australian actress thrives at the challenge here. Make no mistake, this Film has its sights set on some hardware not unlike its tragic Heroine.
I, TONYA‘s storytelling is clear. While often we think of Tonya Harding as desperate and villainous after Nancy Kerrigan‘s headline-making 1994 attack just six weeks before the Lillehammer Olympics, the Film has something new to say about this. Life often is a culmination of choices and those whom we surround ourselves with. We see how choices and association lead Harding (Margot Robbie) on a Triple Axel to an irreverisble fall.
Central to her character are abusive husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and estranged waitress mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney). Both her relationships with them toxic, physically and psychologically. Harding doesn’t have much else grounding her other than her undisputed passion for skating, at which she happens to be excellent.
While training for a hotly-contested berth at the Olympics, which Nancy Kerrigan also is up for, Harding receives a death threat. This triggers Gillooly to have her fumbling bodyguard Derek (Paul Walter Hauser) enlist help to threaten Kerrigan in an attempt to weaken that opponent psychologically. This then spirals out of control and despite Harding making it ultimately to the Olympics, we see her fall from – if it could be called so – grace following that famous “incident”. Through it all we witness Harding’s will to fight, embracing the same anger and violence around her that came to define her, owning her reputation as that someone whom the world loves to hate.
One disturbing thing about I, TONYA is how routine the domestic violence feels. An insult is shouted, a hit follows and we then see blood and bruises as though it is business as usual with the Gilloolys. Yet also, this captures how incredibly-numb and tough Harding has subject herself to become and we do feel for her all the way up to her final plea to skate once again in the courtroom.
Performances by this Ensemble will leave you shaken. While it goes without saying that Robbie is remarkable – we feel exactly how overwhelmed Harding must have felt with much more at stake than just a medal, as she struggles to tie the laces on her skates one minute before hitting the ice at the Olympics. While it is more apparent Robbie is really skating at times and other times not, let’s be clear – I, TONYA isn’t just about the skating.
Janney‘s work is a cut from the same cloth of other monstrous movie mothers like Oscar-winning Mo’Nique in Precious and Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest. She is unapologetically angry and terrifying, yet oddly she is comical. Stan makes a major breakthrough here as the loathsome Gillooly and while we see him as one with few redeeming qualities, he takes us on his journey which strangely comes from a place of love though adversely changing the fate of his talented wife forever.
In defeat and shame, I, TONYA finds that silver lining to be the resounding triumph which Harding would be denied and she should be flattered. Don’t be surprised even if you find yourself on Team Tonya.
VVS Films release I, TONYA Friday, December 22, 2017 in Toronto and expands Friday, January 5, 2018.