Margot Robbie is disgraced champion U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding in this biopic that chronicles her tough upbringing, rise to Olympic stardom, and fall to tabloid fixture. Co-stars Allison Janney (TV's The West Wing) who won an Oscar for her supporting performance, and Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Both Robbie and Janney have been nominated for Academy Awards for their performances.
Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived, and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver, Rules Don't Apply).
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Best Supporting Actress (Janney), Academy Awards 2018 & Golden Globes 2018
- Craig Gillespie('The Finest Hours', 'Million Dollar Arm', 'Lars and the Real Girl')
Drama, Sport, True Story & Biography
Rating: R16 Domestic violence, sexual violence, sex scenes & offensive language
Even if you know what’s coming in I, Tonya (teased from early on in the film as “the incident”) this energetic biopic on disgraced Olympian figure skater Tonya Harding still packs surprises. There’s perhaps none more so, for me, than the feeling conjured up by the skating sequences - exhilaration. I know, not something I saw coming, but the wonders of modern action cinematography come to the fore here, as a virtual camera roams the ice alongside “Margot Robbie”. Attempts to dissect the technical wizardry vanish thanks to the thrill of skating routines in which you’re really rooting for the film’s foul-mouthed, self-described redneck subject, one of several unreliable fourth wall-breaking characters who deliver lively and hilarious performances here.
Robbie and fellow Oscar nominee Alison Janney, alongside an awfully-mustached Sebastian Stan, bring to life real-life white trash subjects in ever-watchable fashion. Not shitheels, exactly, the central characters have all been dealt bum hands by life, which make some of their behaviours understandable, if not forgivable - problems with authority, complex vocabularies of offensive language paired with an inability to meaningfully communicate, and possibly-related penchants for domestic violence. Only Robbie’s Tonya Harding earns real sympathy, her bratty attitude justified by the cruelty meted out by mother and spouse and snobbiness of the skating fraternity.
I, Tonya seems to take a somewhat sympathetic view of some events (“the incident” among them), but it is seldom, if ever, flattering. Eyeballing the camera, an aged, heavy-set Robbie chain-smokes and recounts events with matter-of-factness, self-deprecation, a potty mouth, and touch of evasion here and there. Around this recreated interview, and those of Janney and Stan, I, Tonya whips through its underdog-gone-wrong narrative at a clip, deserving its other Oscar nom for editing as it races along.
By the time the film arrives at “the incident”, and swerves into territory that plays like Goodfellas populated by Coen brothers characters, the rags-to-riches story alone has already been one hell of a ride. As the botch up unfolds, there are plenty of laughs to be had, before Robbie - who’s captivated thus far with dogged determination and defiant take no shit attitude - crumbles emotionally in scenes that show why she’s received an Academy Award nomination. Unlike Janney, she’s not likely to win, but perhaps now we'll soon be unlucky enough to see the words “Suicide Squad 2, the sequel to the Oscar-winning Suicide Squad, starring Academy Award-winner Jared Leto and Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie".
The Guardian (UK)
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Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)
Tonya the Terrible, perhaps not?
Margot Robbie does a tremendous job of presenting to film goers a Tonya Harding that is just as much of a victim as Nancy Kerrigan was. The supporting cast also gave strong performances. A film you could easily see again.
A movie for jocks, ex-jocks and rubbernecker's.
The Tonya Harding drama unfolded in my teenage years. The years when I pretty much believed everything the media dished up to me and before I ever really thought about class and before I knew anything about domestic violence. But I did know some stuff. I knew about the pressure of sports performance because I swam every morning and every night for years as part of a group of swimmers who might make it to international events. I didn't make it but I know about that world of frenemy competitors and that's what I related to back then and, maybe, made me think Tonya Harding was probably guilty. This movie does that great thing that art can sometimes do - makes you completely rethink your character assessment. It has a great sound track too.
Get yer skates on!
Here is the tale of how an American white trash girl almost made it to the top of her game but was scuppered by sheer reckless stupidity. Margot Robbie shines as the hapless skater and Alison Janney puts in an oscar worthy performance as the mother from hell. I came away exhausted as this film is action all the way.
You don't need to know the story but it does help. It's a story you couldn't make up and well worth the telling.
Get your skates on & see it on the big screen
Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding became a household name in 1994 when, just prior to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, rival skater Nancy Kerrigan had her legs bashed in a violent, unprovoked attack. When it was revealed that the assault was "masterminded" by Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, a tabloid feeding-frenzy resulted in instant infamy for Harding, who may or may not have been aware of her husband's potty plot.
'The Finest Hours' and 'Lars and the Real Girl' director Craig Gillespie avoids worrisome issues of "Truth" v. "Fake News" by embracing the fourth-wall breaking playfulness of one of my favourite (and funniest) movies, Michael Winterbottom's 2002 Factory Records' biopic, '24 Hour Party People', in which characters occasionally turn to camera to tell the audience what's portrayed on screen never actually happened.
A year later, 2003's Harvey Pekar biopic, 'American Splendor', pulled much the same trick, resulting in a wonderfully witty and moving film fusing reality, fantasy, memory and history.
Steven Rogers' 'I Tonya' screenplay offers a similarly unreliable, multi-view take on the tale, centred on interviews with actors portraying Harding (Margot Robbie), her ex-husband, Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and Harding's mother (Allison Janney).
The comedic veneer is undermined by Tonya's recollections of abuse. The psychological abuse of her mother, and the physical violence doled out by her husband Jeff to keep his free-spirited young bride in check. However, in direct-to camera interviews both Tonya's mother and former husband claim the violence Toya accuses them of never took place.
Whilst the central characters all get their conflicting say, all are equally ridiculed, reviled, and respected in a film that doesn't so much mock its subjects as much as point the finger of shame and blame at us, the audience, fascinated by this tabloid tale of greed, violence and figure skating.
As in Scorsese's 2013 biopic, 'The Wolf of Wall Street' (in which Margot Robbie shone as Naomi Lapaglia), we the audience are complicit, eating up the scandal and enjoying the often conflicting, subjective recollections depicted.
The "truth" (whatever that might be) is hidden somewhere between the blurred lines of tabloid journalism, self-serving narrators, TV interviews, police reports and court documents.
Key to the narrative is a focus on the chips being stacked against Tonya as a working-class girl competing in an upper-class sport. She can't afford the "right" clothes, instead making her own skating costume and a fur coat from rabbit pelts.
Tonya doesn't go to a private school, her speech is direct and often foul-mouthed, her behaviour wild and "unladylike". She may be the best figure skater, and the only one brave enough to achieve the complex acrobatics of a triple axel, but the judges are shown to be prejudiced against her lower-class origins, scoring her low due to their unwillingness to have their precious sport represented by the likes of Tonya.
All up, it's an entertaining, thought-provoking, wonderfully scripted, acted and directed sporting biopic that embraces the contradictory claims of its characters in an attempt to paint a portrait of Harding that is more than a two-dimensional tabloid tease.
The only downside are a few soundtrack selections reminiscent of 'Suicide Squad' in just how groan-worthily on the nose they are. Still, you could argue that's a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to draw attention to the artifice you're watching, utilising yet another fourth-wall smashing device to point the finger at the audience and cry out Mark Twain's words: "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story".
Seen alongside recent sporting biopics, the tennis tales 'Battle of the Sexes' and 'Borg vs McEnroe', wrestling movie 'Foxcatcher', and Lance Armstrong cycling movie 'The Program', this is another excellent sporting metaphor movie for a society in which it's not the taking part that counts, but the winning at any cost.
Ignore the metaphor and it remains a riveting blast. Wildly entertaining, shocking, moving, funny, fast-paced and fascinating, 'I Tonya' is probably the best non-fiction sporting biopic since David O. Russell's 'The Fighter'.
The acting is first rate, with Robbie in her best role yet, but it's Janney who steals the show as Tonya's foul-mouthed, abusive mother, LaVona - a single mum and waitress determined for her daughter to succeed - using unrelentingly tough love to make it so.
So, get your skates on and go see 'I Tonya' on the big screen.