Director: Craig Gillespie
Clubhouse Pictures/LuckyChap Entertainment
I, Tonya was so good I had to see it twice. It was as if I didn’t quite believe it to be the triumph first time around and had to check. Turns out it’s every bit as good – and even a little bit better – the second time around.
Margot Robbie is quite the revelation as disgraced skater Tonya Harding. She ‘scrubs down’ to frizzy hair, braces, ubiquitous cigarette smoke and cussing and even if you can still see her through that and you can’t quite see a likeness to the real Harding, Robbie makes you believe. She disappears down deep into it. She’s all gritted teeth and grimace, all bogan-determination. It’s quite believable, very nearly a virtuoso performance.
She’s helped along the way by a frighteningly good Allison Janney as the potty-mouthed, nightmare stage-mother. (When is Janney not good though right?) She clearly relishes every ridiculously brilliant line of dialogue she gets – even cutting in during one of many fourth-wall breaks to bemoan the loss of her storyline.
A lot of fun is had here with a sad and nearly serious story.
Gillespie knows how to make a good film (Lars And The Real Girl) and even if you can spot every reference to other films when he freeze-frames, plays with the he-said/she-said narration style, and the very notion of it being an intentionally unreliable narrator – you could think what Howard Stern’s Private Parts might have been like if made as a Martin Scorsese film – he still nails every frame.
Sebastian Stan is Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s horrible-jerk beau; he’s great in this role too. Not just believable, not just annoying – something else. Something extra. He’s easy to hate and yet somehow it’s also easy to relate to him and his idiot-friends and his punch-smaller-younger-more-female-than-him mentality. We’re in Trump-voting America. And if I, Tonya never really clears up the real story around Harding vs. Kerrigan that’s for the better. Because what it does along the way is paint a picture of Harding as eternal underdog: the grotty, tarty nobody that the skating community loathes; even more so for the fact that beyond the garish self-sewn costumes and routines choreographed to ZZ Top she can skate-to-fuck!
It also takes us to the shitty world of those ghastly headlines.
The delicious zeal of the scabby media.
If the film, erm, skates around the real truth – and pulls a triple pike along the way – it makes for an altogether better movie experience. Plus this is funny as hell.
One part sad-sack memoir with black humour dotted in and around the really gruesome scenes of domestic violence, cowardice (on the point of Harding’s awful ex) and the emotional abuse from her mother, one part bumbling crime caper.
I, Tonya is a strange masterpiece. The sort of American movie that America gets embarrassed by, the sort of American movie that paints a sympathetic portrait of an underclass. This is in the end a survivor’s story. It’s an endurance tale. And though it’s demented, playful, weird and disturbing – or perhaps because if it – it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in ages. A triumph and brilliant effort from everyone involved. The great soundtrack of classic rock staples drives many of the scenes too.