‘I, Tonya’ (2017) Movie Review – Margot Robbie and Allison Janney Shine With Strong Performances
I, Tonya is a biopic based on the life of American figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) from her upbringing right through to her infamous Olympics career during the early 90’s which was infamous for a number of iconic and rather scandalous reasons. Directed by Craig Gillespie the film takes a relatively different approach to telling a true story by incorporating a darkly comedic tone throughout and honestly that tone is what makes the movie shine. It gives the film a distinct personality which makes it thoroughly enjoyable and a lot of fun. It is headlined by Margot Robbie who excellently portrays Harding and manages to capture the uplifting side, tragic side, and somewhat hilarious side of her character damn well. There is a lot to love about this movie but also some elements I feel could have been handled a little better.
The Oscar nominated performance from Margot is one of the two standout performances here, the other being Allison Janney who hauntingly portrays Tonya’s mother LaVona with another Oscar nominated performance. The range of emotion Margot expresses throughout this story is massive and she brings so much to every scene to where you almost can’t take your eyes off her. She sells the truly tragic nature of some of the more dark and dramatic moments within her story so damn convincingly you are constantly invested in her character, and despite some of the events that go down you’re always rooting for her. And then on the other hand Margot is able to put her range as an actress to good use as her personality and charisma allows her to easily tap into the more emotionally uplifting and sarcastically hilarious moments. This provides multiple angles at which you can look at her character, connect with her, and just enjoy following her story. She is not my personal pick for best actress at the Oscars but if she somehow comes out on top it’ll be well deserved.
I also mentioned Allison Janney who to me has put in the unrivalled greatest supporting performance of the year and is a shoe-in to win the award. She portrays one of the best worst mothers in film and delivers a strong haunting performance that is the best performance in the film until Margot shows up. But what makes her character so damn enjoyable to watch at the same time is Allison’s ability to flick that comedic switch and deliver a dry one-liner that will make you laugh. I also want to highlight the young actress Mckenna Grace who played a young Tonya Harding because despite only being in it for a short time she is incredible. She has a few acting roles to her name already and will be featured in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018) but I hope she gets a lot more roles in the future because she’s great.
I did have a couple of issues with the film though, mainly the way it approaches the telling of “the incident” and how this alters the course of the story including its pace and focus. It felt overly Hollywoodised, and I know biopics aren’t where you turn for the truest of true stories but it was quite jarring in its presentation. I understand this is a big moment in Tonya Harding’s story but when this event takes over complete control of the story for a time I wasn’t loving it as much as I wanted to. I’m not sure it needed to be handled this way and resulted in the latter half of the film becoming quite uneven and even feeling slightly drawn out. I enjoyed the majority of the second and third acts mainly thanks to the characters but it was a slight letdown. On top of that this movie isn’t winning any awards for visual effects during the figure skating sequences because the CGI is just not great. It’s a minor thing and I guess you could look past it as it’s not terrible but it’s noticeable and that’s almost as bad.
So in the end I did have a lot of fun with this movie, I loved the tone, the humour, the drama, the characters, the performances, and the fun and upbeat 70’s/80’s soundtrack featuring a number of classics. The performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are the biggest takeaways here and the main reason to see this movie. If it wasn’t for the way some events in the latter parts of the movie were presented I’d have loved it more but it is what it is and it’s still very much a great movie based on a true story you need no prior knowledge to enjoy.