I, Tonya review: Margot Robbie leads the cast of this superb post-modern roller coaster from director Craig Gillespie.
I, Tonya review by Orestes Adam.
Every film that markets itself as a true story inevitably runs into the problem of authenticity, forcing the viewer to question just how much of what is depicted is true. What is most astonishingly brilliant about Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya is how it combats that problem from the very start by introducing itself from multiple perspectives in mockumentary-style interviews, hinting at the postmodern roller coaster that is to come. Characters often break the fourth wall to voice their thoughts on the historical accuracy of a scene and offer conflicting testimonies throughout. Though it sticks primarily with the sequence of events advocated by Tonya Harding herself, what matters in this retelling of one of the biggest scandals in sports history is that these voices of disagreement are at least heard, if not fully supported in its dramatic reenactment. While the whole and complete truth can likely never be unraveled, viewers will find that by the end of the film even some of the story’s most ridiculous aspects are more honest than they could ever imagine.
I, Tonya chronicles the story of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) from the very beginning, showing us the constant physical and emotional abuse she endured from her mother LaVona (Allison Janney), a chain-smoking foul-mouthed southerner, and her poisonous relationship with the violent Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Beyond her destructive relationships, we see her motivation to become the world’s best figure skater and are led to believe that she could very well achieve that goal if not for the hypocrisy of the sport, the judges of which rate skaters not merely on their skill and athleticism but their appearance and presentation, something which Tonya wholesomely lacks. Margot Robbie, who also produced the film, delivers her best performance yet as the scandalous figure skater and does so entirely by her own merit as an actress. Unlike her breakthrough roles in The Wolf of Wall Street and Suicide Squad, not a single shot sexualises her as she fully conforms to the lack of glamour her character demands in stark contrast to the plastic figurines her competitors attempt to be. What is most impressive is how she consistently shifts between hitting every comedic beat that comes her way and embodying the dramatic aspects of her character such as her crippling doubts, insecurities and fears; even offering a powerful meditation on the role of the media and the life-shattering consequences of becoming embroiled at the centre of such a massive scandal.
Related: The Wolf Of Wall Street review
The rest of the cast proves equally competent, particularly Allison Janney who is stunningly despicable as LaVona, as they embody the layers and understanding required in portraying real-life characters whilst refraining from justifying their actions in any way. While criticism could be applied to its making light of issues such as domestic violence and abuse, the film never shies away from just how tragically horrible the reality of these issues really are as it forces the viewer to feel every blow stricken against its titular protagonist. Its consistent comedy has more to do with its editing rather than its actual treatment of the subject matter and what sets I, Tonya apart from so many other comedies and biopics is just that: its craft.
The sets are beautifully composed and blocked, bearing an admirably striking resemblance to real-life documentations of certain incidents, from Harding’s costumes to the actors themselves; even the judges who appear in the film ever so briefly look incredibly similar to their real-life counterparts. The soundtrack is wonderfully engaging, ranging from Supertramp to Vivaldi, and the skating sequences simply dazzle as the camera moves opposite to the direction that Tonya spins, providing a dizzying effect that reflects the unbelievable sense of balance required to even attempt such a feat. The real star behind the camera however is editor Tatiana S. Riegel, who plays an instrumental role in seamlessly integrating mockumentary, fiction and even some archival footage in a way that in spite of the range of tones it attempts to invoke, never feels too sudden or jarring. Riegel’s editing maintains the energetic pacing of a Martin Scorsese picture alongside the seldom seen purely cinematic comedy of an Edgar Wright movie.
I, Tonya is one of the most hilariously original takes on a true story there is, consistently challenging its own authenticity at every turn to provide a brutally honest and honestly brutal portrayal of figure skating, celebrity and success. Though it is nowhere near as polished or graceful as the sport it observes, this film nails its landing every time.
I, Tonya review by Orestes Adam, February 2018.
I, Tonya is released in selected UK cinemas from Friday 16th February 2018, and nationwide from February 22nd.