I, Tonya Review: Taking Back the Truth

Photo Credit:https://thefilmstage.com/trailer/margot-robbie-hits-the-ice-in-first-teaser-for-i-tonya/

What’s left to be said about Tonya Harding that hasn’t been said already? A lot actually, when society advances a couple decades and you re-direct the point of view. In terms of how this film treats its lead historical figure, I, Tonya most closely resembles FX’s miniseries American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson, which purposefully retold Marcia Clarke’s story from a fresh 2016 perspective where the media and society at large’s treatment of women was under rightful scrutiny.

The film’s portrait of one of the most talented figure skaters of her era is deliberately forthcoming and intimate. Here, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie, better than ever) is a fully fleshed out human being, using the film’s on-camera confessional schtick to express her version of what happened in the only way she knows how. Director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers deliver the Tonya that the tabloids reported on as well as a great deal of empathy for a briefly prominent figure struggling with her own celebrity within circumstances she couldn’t control.

Her relationship with her mother (Allison Janey), devoid of love and compassion, provides the toxic environment that brings Tonya to an emotional place where she marries the abusive Jeff Gilooly (Sebastian Stan). With the film’s often cheeky attitude toward the thrillingly unbelievable true events of Harding’s life, it occasionally mishandles domestic abuse with tonal shifts that don’t quite match the physical violence that came just before, though never to the point of ethical discomfort. These “distracting” traumas somehow only make Tonya a better skater, propelling her to pull off the famed triple axel and make her way to the Olympics.

But as we all know, through ridiculous miscommunications and foul intent, Tonya isn’t the only skater who comes away from her life story with bruises. It’s here where Robbie truly excels. The first half of the film see the actress playing to the vibrant, highly emotive strengths we already knew she had. But in the second half, when Tonya has to not only face the press and the public, but herself, Robbie pulls off the most nuanced and resonant work of her career. It’s a performance that dares you to laugh at it, and then scrutinizes you for it later in a distressing moment of clarity for Tonya’s legacy.

There is, however, one shortcoming in Tonya’s portrayal, and that’s in how the film showcases her skills. In an awkward effort to Robbie on screen as much as possible, the film’s generally great cinematography is marred by the actress’ face forcibly generated on a body double’s face for what are some very quick athletic movements. I, Tonya by no means needed to be a film of special effect wizardry, but it didn’t need to play a part in re-inventing the wheel either, especially with its lower budget. But onto more actual movie wizardry.

Janey is great too, but if you needed anyone to tell you that, you haven’t seen enough of her work. As Tonya’s chilly mother, she delivers the go-for-broke performance she’s been hinting at in small film roles for years. She nails it, but again, it shouldn’t shock you how much of a gift this veteran remains.

As the second half of the film dives deep into Tonya’s scandal and celebrity presence, it’s emotionality sneaks up on you. There’s a great American tragedy woven into Tonya’s story, showing what happens to a small town girl when she’s not given to resources to break out of the world she was born in, eventually demonized by the very audience she so desperately wanted to love her. I, Tonya respectfully shows Tonya at her very best and very worst, it’s greatest achievement making it feel like no aspect of her was left on the cutting room floor this time. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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