“I, Tonya” is directed by Craig Gillespie and stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, and Paul Walter Hauser. The movie is based on the life story of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding and her rough upbringing in a usually high-class sport, which inevitably led to the brutal incident involving Nancy Kerrigan right before the 1994 Olympics.
The trailer for this movie excited me more than most in 2017, as the unique style and frantic energy shown looked to perfectly fit the insanity of its true source material, and Robbie appeared more than game to take on this controversial figure. So, with all of that, I came in very excited to see the final product.
Margot Robbie has impressed in recent years with various strong performances, even when the movie around her is terrible (“Suicide Squad”), but her performance in this movie is easily her best work to date. Robbie completely transforms into this role and gives an outstanding performance as Tonya Harding. As Harding, Robbie nails the essence of this character through well-executed dialogue, strong emotion, and her excellent dynamic with the rest of the cast. There are a handful of great performances in the movie, but Robbie stands out as the clear highlight in what could be a career-defining performance for the actress.
Alongside Robbie, Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan are both terrific as Harding’s mother and ex-husband. Janney is ruthless, cruel, but consistently entertaining to watch, and I love where her character went as the film moved forward. Stan stays solid from beginning to end, and the conflicting characteristics that Stan gives made his character one that was always unpredictable, and one that somehow remained interesting even when Robbie was stealing the show.
Screenwriter Steven Rogers had a tough task ahead of him figuring out how to stick to the facts on this insane true story, especially because Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly still have completely conflicting stories on what happened to this day. With all that being said, Rogers creates an absolutely brilliant script that is able to follow, mostly, Harding’s recollection, but while also sprinkling in beliefs from Gillooly and Harding’s mother on the way. Using staged interviews to gain some insight on situations worked out incredibly well, and the fourth wall breaks scattered throughout, done much like in “The Big Short,” were funny, unique, and consistently successful.
There is so much to love about how this movie is crafted, even without the tremendous performances, and that is entirely due to Craig Gillespie’s impressive direction and flair. Gillespie so did not impress me with his last effort, “The Finest Hours,” but he makes this movie his own with unique storytelling, a strong sense of the characters, and a real ability to make the movie fun and full of laughs while also bringing out all the necessary heart and struggle from Tonya Harding. There are numerous scenes where I felt the pain and drama that Harding is suffering from, and while she is not necessarily the most likable character, or human being, the world has ever seen, Gillespie makes her someone that the audience can sympathize with, but without making her look like a total hero.
As I have said previously, this was a tough film to make, as even the people the movie is based on can’t agree on what happened, but somehow Gillespie and Rogers make for a film that miraculously stays true to the real story, almost as close as humanly possible. This insane true story of Harding goes through tons of twists and turns, and some characters say some crazy things, but the facts back up most of everything that goes on, which is not always necessary to make a great movie, but with this film, it makes the journey all the more rewarding. The insanity of this movie is perfectly described by the opening title card that reads, “Based on the irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly.” Gillespie knew what he was walking into, and the fact that he pulled off this movie with such masterful execution shows the real talents he has a director.
Figure skating is something I’ve always found impressive, but never anything I can say that I followed or truly felt passionate about. This film makes figure skating feel brutally intense and completely exhilarating, and it has a lot to do with the gorgeous camerawork done by Nicolas Karakatsanis. The camera moves with Tonya, and with Robbie doing quite a bit of the skating herself, it really allows the audience to feel the tension, the excitement, and the disappointment with her as she goes.
There are two small moments in the film that I think could have been changed, but they are very minuscule issues and didn’t really stick with me as major flaws. Early in the film, Tonya confronts the judge, and I think that the movie went over the top a bit, and the same holds true with a plot point involving Paul Walter Hauser’s character later on, but neither moment made all that much of a difference in the final product.
Caitlin Carver plays Nancy Kerrigan, and she gives a fine performance when she is needed, but her character is barely even in the movie, as the film is really just about Robbie and Harding. I understand that this is more of a biopic than a movie on the incident, but even an extra scene or two about who Kerrigan was could have helped make the pivotal moment feel even more critical.
I expected to enjoy this movie, but I did not expect to fall in love with “I, Tonya” as much as I did. This is a phenomenal film on all fronts, with Margot Robbie giving a career-best performance in the lead, Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan exceeding expectations in supporting roles, and with an impressive screenplay and direction that surprised me the most. Craig Gillespie added the perfect amount energy and originality to such a crazy true story, and Steven Rogers somehow makes conflicting recollections into a brilliant storytelling method that makes for some great moments of non-clarity. The figure skating sequences are exhilarating and beautifully shot, and even with some of its very minor flaws, “I, Tonya” is a spectacular movie, and one I cannot wait to see again.
What did you think of “I, Tonya”? Comment below with your thoughts.