Margot Robbie is mesmerising in her performance as disgraced American figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, a film that has now earned her an Oscar nomination alongside her co-star Allison Janney, and the first that she’s also produced.
This black comedy, directed by Craig Gillespie, is based on the real-life story that centers around the attack or ‘the incident’ on Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s skating rival, ahead of their Olympic showdown in 1994. If you were around at the time, you’ll know that Tonya Harding was the media’s vixen as this unusual story of betrayal unfolded before our eyes. All I remember of that coverage was that it was pretty much trial by media – she did it and she was an evil villainous, jealous and bitter women who’d stop at nothing for success. But, we know there’s always more to a story than meets the eye.
The film is narrated by documentary-style interviews of the key players in this stranger than fiction, fascinating and ultimately devastating tale. The story starts at the beginning of Harding’s skating career; we meet a young Tonya who’s not your usual skating kid, she’s from the wrong side of the tracks and her mother’s not afraid of the C word – or chain smoking on whilst on the ice. But, try as she might this perfect athletic skater wasn’t the type of girl the figure skating community wanted, therefore, she’d never get that perfect scores she so deserved. However, her determination never faltered with her hard work paying off and taking her to being ‘the number one skater in the world’ when she became the first American woman to successfully land a triple axel jump at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Minneapolis. How did it possibly go wrong for this young Olympic hopeful now?
Although it’s a surprisingly bleaker tale than expected, this film also manages to balance its dark sense of humour alongside some properly gut-wrenching emotional moments – mainly delivered by a flawless performance from Robbie. Playing a real-life person and committing to telling their story needs a dedication and hard graft from an actor and it’s obvious that Robbie has put in the work. She shows the determination and downfall of a woman who is both the epitome of the American Dream while also being the metaphor as to why is doesn’t really exist. The skating sequences are perfectly shot with Robbie’s replication of Harding’s joy at her triple axel landing being the perfect imitation. There’s no character here this is a raw and affectionate portrayal of a colourful character who had many dimensions to share with an audience. Margot Robbie deserves all the praise and accolades for this wonderfully executed performance.
The other key players in the film are both entertaining and show the challenges Harding had in her life compared to some of her more well-to-do competitors. Her abusive husband, Jeff Gillooly is played by Sebastian Stan who shows how one man can wear many faces with the most disturbing one shown only to Tonya herself. It’s an insightful look at what creates an abusive relationship and how individuals become entwined within a spiral of a life full of violence. His sidekick Shawn, played by Paul Walter Hauser, is eccentric and hilarious with his deadpan delusions of grandeur that help make a dark story a little lighter. However, the only person that really touches Robbie’s screen domination is Allison Janney playing LaVona Golden, Harding’s mother. She’s callous, brutal, comedic and complex and Janney is able to depict this complex character so as not to evoke blame, compassion or redemption but just as a matter of fact of showing the audience who she was in a ‘deal with it’ kind of way. She’s utterly wonderful.
I’ Tonya shines a light on the American Dream, or lack thereof, the power of the media and one women’s forgotten achievements that sees Margot Robbie give a gold medal worthy performance.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.