The opening frames of I, Tonya announce that what follows is based on a series of irony-free, wildly contradictory and total true interviews. Then we cut to mock set ups of Tonya ( Margot Robbie) her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and her mother LeVona Harding ( Allison Janney) decked out in a fur coat with oxygen tubes attached to her nostrils and a bird on her shoulder that pecks at her on a semi regular basis. From there we go back to the beginning where we see a three year old Harding led onto the ice by her chain smoking mother determined to have the leading figure skating coach in Portland Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) take on her talented daughter as a student. Harding then moves onto the figure skating competitive circuit where her brashness coloured by the harsh comments of her mother turn the community against her. She has the talent but lacks the polish all the while refusing to play ball. The middle segment ends with Tonya dad leaving forcing the skater to face her abuse mother full on as Margo Robbie first appears on screen as the 15 year old version of the titular character.
Director Gillespie makes some bold choices with the material that may not be to everyone’s taste but is true to the set up with the initial declaration. Events are described by, Tonya, Jeff and LeVona as if they all were at a different event with the characters often looking right at the camera as they deliver their soon to be disputed dialogue. The best of these passages comes from Gillooly buddy and Kerrigan assault ringleader Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) as he makes himself out to be an espionage expert worthy of the toughest deep cover assignment Langley could offer. The other script choice was to limit the role of Harding foil Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) she plays ball, wears the regulation costumes and is the circuit darling.
The film’s pace quickens following a death threat to Harding that effects her performance on the ice. Jeff and his pal Shawn reason that something should happen to Kerrigan to even the playing field. Their initial thought of letters which involved Tanya playing a role to obtain and jot down Kerrigan’s training schedule escalated out of control to the lead pipe to the knee assault perpetrated by two bozo acquaintances of Echhardt referred to only as the incident in the film.
Margot Robbie undergoes quite the transformation to play Harding. She embraces early 90’s frizz alongside of a working class Pacific Northwest accent and attitude. She has not filter as a result of her tough upbringing. If she feels she’s been wronged she is right in your face be it a fan in the stands or a judge perched up on the far boards. Robbie’s morphing may have been topped by Allison Janney. After a series of responsible adult roles she takes the most offence stab at motherhood since Faye Dunaway picked up a coat hanger as Joan Crawford.
I, Tonya is a loosely framed biopic backed by sharp cutting dialogue and a base story that is so unbelievable that no one could have presented the topic as a fictional piece and had it made. All the elements of an underdog story are present. The outsider vs the establishment. Escape from abusive relationships and a second shot at redemption by the main character after falling short of her lifelong dream. Ultimately it’s a tale that makes the viewer surprisingly sympathetic to Harding witch is a fine testament to the work of Margot Robbie in front of and Craig Gillespie behind the camera.
**** Out of 4.
I, Tonya | Craig Gillespie | U.S.A. | 2017 | 121 minutes.
Tags: Figure Skating, Olympics, Albertville, Lillehammer, Scandal, Tabloids, Lead Pipe, Skate Lace, Fourth Wall.