Goodfellas on ice.
In the early-90’s, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was one of the premier figure-skaters in the country, let alone, the world. She was popular, talented, driven, and oh yeah, a lot different from the prissy, overly-attractive skaters out there. It’s why the judges didn’t love her so much and felt as if she wasn’t the face of the figure-skating world, despite her being the best in the game and clearly deserving of a spot on the Olympics team. It’s also what Tonya’s husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), thought too, and it’s why he decided to take matters into his own hands, therefore tarnishing Tonya’s good name and professional career forever. But in a way, it was destined to always be this way, according to her mother (Allison Janney), who never let up on her for a single second, no matter how young and/or inexperienced she may have been.
Uh oh. Look out, girl! Here comes the swing!
One of the most important takeaways from I, Tonya is that, above all else, it makes you look at and view Tonya Harding in a different light than I think has ever been done so before. For almost two decades now, Harding’s name has been used as a punchline for something, in all honesty, she never did or even had a hand in; she’s always claimed innocence, but honestly, no one ever wanted to listen. Most people thought she truly was a jealous, evil and maniacle woman who saw what she wanted, saw that she wasn’t going to get it, and decided to do what she could to take away from said person who was going to take it away from her.
I, Tonya, in a way, proves differently. It shows us that Harding had nothing to do with it and even if she did, was she a tad bit justified? Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers come together in a very interesting way, in that they don’t ever argue the authenticity of this tale, but argue whether it’s sad and depressing, or over-the-top and hilarious. Or, in a way, is it a little bit of both? Can it be a little bit of both?
In other words, I, Tonya is a tragic-tale that often times, can get played for laughs a little too often, but it’s never, ever boring.
One main reason for that is because the movie never seems to ever settle down, no matter what. Gillespie’s direction is pure-Scorsese in that it’s quick, fast-on-its-feet, and always giving us something new to chew on, at least every five seconds or so. Even the plot-device of having the story told to us by a few different interviews and viewpoints, makes the movie all the more exciting as we’re getting to know the full story of what happened, who did what, who’s to blame, and hell, why any of it matters. I, Tonya is the kind of biopic that could have easily been boring and a little too long for someone like Harding, but as Gillespie and Rogers show, we realize that there’s much more to this story and how it still relates to our world today.
See, one of the main discussion-points behind I, Tonya isn’t whether or not Tonya did it; we already know that she didn’t and we’ve all moved on. What the movie shows us is that the way Tonya’s life was lived, both on and off the rink, mattered a whole lot more to the judges than what she could actually pull-off. She was, as they say, one of the best figure-skaters in the world at one point, however, the judges didn’t like the way she looked, acted, or who she went to bed with and while her life and actions weren’t perfect, the movie argues that none of that should have mattered. Her personal life may have been an absolute wreck and in-shambles from day one, but it didn’t take away from her ability to skate the hell out of her opponents, so why should anybody else care but herself?
Would you really expect a woman with that hair to be a nice, generally-pleasant member of society?
It’s an interesting argument that, unfortunately, gets muddled underneath all of the wacky and crazy hijinx that ensue everywhere you look.
And it’s why I, Tonya, despite being an altogether entertaining and compelling look at Harding’s life, also feels a little off, tonally speaking. Scenes of Harding getting her teeth kicked-in by her husband, while awfully disturbing in nature, are played for chucks here when they shouldn’t; even the times when it seems like her mother’s going too over-the-top with her intimidation, the movie decides to play up an obvious song-cue from whatever retro-playlist it can find. I admire the direction Gillespie takes, in that he makes material like this, literally pop off the screen, but it comes at a price and it’s that it sometimes feels like we’re not fully getting the story of Tonya Harding that we, as well as her, should be treated to.
That said, Margot Robbie is absolutely amazing in this lead role, so that has to at least accounting for something, right? And yes, it does. Robbie’s becoming more and more of an interesting actress as she’s not only taking on roles that take away from her sheer stunning beauty, but that also challenge her more emotionally as an actress; she did it last year in Suicide Squad as the downright insane, but bubbly Harley Quinn, and she does it so here, with equally as much power. As Tonya Harding, we see a sad, tortured soul who just wanted love, acceptance, and to be considered one of the best in the world, but because of mediating circumstances surrounding her life, she just never got what she wanted. Robbie’s plays up this sadness and this desperation so well, that by the end of the movie, when everything has settled and the tone is cooled-off, we truly do see a battered, beaten, and broken-down human being. We feel for her and although we don’t love her, we sure as hell root for her.
And it’s easy to when you’re played by Margot Robbie, someone who is closely becoming one of our best actresses around.
Same goes for Allison Janney who, for what seems like the first time in forever, is given a role in a movie that’s up-to-par with the constant skills she shows on TV. As Tonya’s mother, Janney steals every scene as this mean, cruel, and downright nasty woman who always challenges her daughter to do better, isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind, and push all those around her. It seems phony and like a made-up character, but by the end, we realize that this woman’s real and it makes Janney’s performance all that more impressive. Same goes for Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly, an idiot who we learn to grow some sympathy and heart for over the film even if he is, in the end, just another man who took the main-prize from Tonya Harding’s life.
Like all men do to the successful women around them. Nice going, fellas. Way to make us all look bad.
Consensus: The tone is a bit wobbly and all-over-the-place, but I, Tonya benefits from some great performances, and an electrifying pace that hardly ever slows down.
8 / 10
That’s how it starts. And unfortunately, ends.
Photos Courtesy of: NEON