Based on true events, I, Tonya follows the true story of ice skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), documenting the rise and fall of her career, her combative marriage to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and icy relationship with mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney). In spite of her relatively poor upbringing and abrasive personality working against her, Tonya quickly becomes a star after becoming the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition. However, her legacy would be haunted by the aftermath which involved an infamous and catastrophic attack on a fellow Olympic competitor.
Audiences attending I, Tonya will be informed almost immediately that its story is based on interviews with figures that influenced or otherwise had an impact on Tonya Harding. What follows is a consistent play on what’s real and what’s truth (for example, we see Tonya go out after her husband with a shotgun as she tells the camera ‘I never did this’) which, while not entirely new to the biopic genre, manages to feel fresh because of its comical impact and complimenting of the film's distinct style and tone. Another source of commendation which I, Tonya earns is its ability to capture the tragedy of Tonya Harding’s life while also maintaining a sharp sense of wit and humour that has you entertained throughout.
The film follows the life of Harding from being a child prodigy to a struggling teenager to falling in love for the first time and marrying the beau who would put her through years of hell. Her relationships with mother and husband are extremely hostile and while Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney make for an effective triple threat, Robbie and Janney are truly phenomenal. Janney is cruel, brilliant, dark and hilarious as LaVona – every scene she features in is the best one. As for Robbie, she proves once again she has scope beyond her years but one gets the sense that she is yet to peak. The talent she demonstrates here makes one only more optimistic for what Robbie will accomplish in the future.
There is much that works in I, Tonya, including an upbeat soundtrack which uses classic songs like ‘Gloria’, ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and ‘The Chain’ to great effect, and a chilly cinematographic colour palate that suits the film’s cool ambience and content well. However, the film falls down on two fronts. First off, the CGI effects used for the ice skating scenes are extremely off-putting and unnecessary, this feeling particularly the case when footage of the real Tonya Harding in competition is shown at the end and the beauty of the sport in a genuine setting is highlighted. Secondly, the plot loses momentum and becomes rather dull when it turns to Jeff and his friend Shawn's (Paul Walter Hauser) attempt to carry out the ill-fated crime. They are simply not all that comical or interesting as a duo and one wishes the film hadn’t detracted from its focus on Tonya for such an extended period. Overall though, I, Tonya is sharp, funny and just the right amount of zany to make it stand out from the rest. Expect award nods for Robbie and wins for Janney.