I, Tonya is a biographical sports black comedy film directed by Craig Gillespie and stars Margot Robbie as titular figure skater Tonya Harding and Sebastian Stan as her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. The supporting cast includes Julianne Nicholson, Caitlin Carver, Bobby Cannavale, and Allison Janney
The Story/The Direction:
This film is based on the life of Tonya Harding (Robbie). In 1994, she was involved in the plan to kneecapped her rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. She has been made fun of and throughout the years she has been looked at as a villain. This film essentially takes that and gives the audience her side of the story. Well sort of… This film breaks the fourth wall multiple times so certain characters can interrupt the scene to tell the audience that the scene didn’t happen that way. These breaks allow to keep the story fairly fresh as the audience ultimately know which is the true story but the film does give you one to fall on, Tonya’s. She is someone who was abused by those supposed to love her (her mother and Gillooly) and was rejected by the skating community because she did not meet their standards.
Director Gillespie loosely based on a series of interviews, footage, and other material. The film progresses through Harding’s troubled childhood and how her only passion was skating. She was abused by her mother (Janney) and abandoned by her father. She had no education and one day she meets her future husband Gillooly (Stan) The main story is shown through Tonya’s eyes but hers aren’t the only ones the audience sees. As this film shows, there are multiple points of view on a story and this film plays with this concept by showing you Tonya’s, her mother’s, Gillooly’s and Tonya’s bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser). The look of this film is on point as each decade that this film takes place in feels authentic plus the costumes look great. Gillespie is able to add a lot of energy to this film through good dialogue, narrative, humor, and wonderful cast.
The entire cast is fantastic but the standouts are Janney as Tonya’s mother and Tonya herself. Janney plays the profane, chain-smoking, and abusive mother, though the character says the latter never happened. Janney who has been mostly put into fairly safe supporting roles however here she is able to excel in the role she is given. She is able to play essentially a real life villain and the audience can tell that Janney had a lot of fun playing this character. But as the title infers, this film belongs to Robbie. While decent in her prior films, her acting has been fairly one dimensional playing the sexual desire of the film. In this picture, she is able to expand on her resume. This role allows her to show her versatility that gives the audience the swagger of an experienced athlete and also the pain she gained from the incident and years of physical and verbal abuse by both her mother and husband. Robbie asks the audience to not like Harding like most sport-related biopics but to empathize and understand her and not mock her.
This movie unfortunately only touches on the implications of abusive relationships. It never fully embraces this part of Harding’s life. The film takes these aspects and tries to push them into the same avenue of the incident itself. Some people say it happened and some say it didn’t. This also leads to some fourth wall breaks which attempt to be comedic. In addition, there was a lack of character development of Nancy Kerrigan herself. The film does not show her perspective and unfortunately, this takes away from the ultimate incident itself. The film tells you that this person is Harding’s rival and that’s all. She has literally no dialogue and thus seems unimportant. It remains to be seen if this was purposeful and the film is meant to concentrate on the Tonya character. However, it seems not as some points of her life were not explored fully.
What sets this film apart from other sports biopics is the fact that it isn’t one. It’s not about a person who overcame adversity and conquered. It’s about someone who was surrounded by tragedy and tried to follow her dreams and still was pushed down. Harding was a person who never really had full control of her life unless she was on the ice. She chose the movements, the music, and because it was not up to standards to the judges, she still lost control. All she wanted was to be the best and represent her country in comparison to Kerrigan who “looked like poo” when she received the silver medal. She never wanted to be this villain that the media made her but she never had the choice. Robbie and Janney play their roles flawlessly to which they both may gain awards for if not multiple nominations.
Rating: 4.0/5.0 bowties
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