Two crimes from the 90’s stand out above any others. One was the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, which was followed by the trial for O.J. Simpson. The other involved an Olympic ice skater by the name of Tonya Harding, who became notorious for her involvement in an attack on Nancy Kerrigan, a rival. Harding became one of the most hated women of the decade, and her story even interested people who couldn’t care less about the sport. I, Tonya tells the story of Tonya’s life starting at the age of three and leading to the eventual attack that became the talk of the nation for many years. We’ve had our fair share of biopics this year, but this might be the best of the lot. Not only are the performances absolutely stellar, but it’s a film that makes you reconsider what you think you know about Tonya Harding.
I, Tonya does something with its interview-style of storytelling that I’ve never seen before. While this format is nothing new to cinema, the opening texts suggests that the interviews are recreated verbatim from actual interviews with both Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. Each interview gives a unique perspective to the murky details that took place. While we may never know the 100% truth, I appreciated seeing two sides of the same story. This was especially true, because we only saw the side that the media gave us so many years ago.
What really struck me as the credits rolled was how this movie made me feel. Believe it or not, I found myself feeling bad for Tonya. Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t seem like the friendliest of people. But I, Tonya made it seem like Tonya Harding got the raw end of the deal. At times, her story comes across like she was at the business end of a Cohen Brothers film. She’s surrounded by complete morons whose decisions will make you slap your forehead in disbelief. While the validity of the story may be suspect, it’s a very believable and enjoyable one.
Although the story of this film is more than intriguing, the performances are an even better aspect. Margot Robbie as Tonya nails the bad girl demeanor we remember from the news. I’d like to tell you that she gives us a softer side to Harding, but flamboyancy is the name of the game in I, Tonya. And Robbie is exactly that in all the right ways. Sebastian Stan’s Gillooly is equally convincing as Tonya’s idiotic ex-husband and should remind fans that you don’t have to be intelligent to be abusive.
The best performance, by far, however is Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother, LaVona. She takes the sarcasm she’s known for and raises it to 11 in a massive way. Her portrayal makes LaVona feel like one of the most despicable people on the planet, but makes you laugh at the same time. She has multiple one-liners that are some of the best I’ve heard in 2017. And I’m certain that only Janney could have delivered them with such intense dryness. She should be a serious consideration for at least a nomination from the Academy this year.
There is one aspect of the film that I can’t quite decide if it works. On multiple occasions, characters break the fourth wall and talk directly to the camera. Most of the time, this feels like a distraction, but there’s one moment in particular that it felt completely effective. It seemed like an odd choice to use this trope as an extension of the interview format. Still using just that one moment would have been a smarter choice, in my humble opinion.
Before I saw the first trailer for this film, I never realized how interested I was in hearing this story. Now that I’ve finished I, Tonya, I can heartily recommend it as one of my favorite of the year. It’s a dark tale with equal parts comedy and tragedy that will feel enlightening, even if you don’t believe it by the end. This feels like the sleeper hit of the year, and it should not be missed.
And that’s the f—ing truth.
I, Tonya is now playing in select theaters nationwide
Starring Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, and Sebastian Stan
Written by Steven Rogers
Directed by Craig Gillespie