I, Tonya (2017)

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All great with the skates?

Director: Craig Gillespie
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Caitlin Carver, Bojana Novakovic, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace, Maizie Smith

Based on a true story, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was a gifted figure skater who faced backlash, due to being far from the image of grace that was wanted in the sport. Stuck in an turbulent marriage, she was notable for being the first American woman to complete the triple axel, a notoriously difficult move, in competition. But her legacy would be defined by her association to an attack on her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).

At the beginning of the film, a title card appears on-screen, saying about the contradictory nature of this true story. The reason for this lies in the interviews screenwriter Steve Rogers secured with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly, the real-life figures this film is based around. Their memories of the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan differ from one another, so both their sides of the story were put into the film, leaving it up to the audience to decide whose version of events they believe.

This idea is conveyed through a faux-documentary format, as our leads portray older versions of their characters, recounting their version of events to the camera. It's a format that's brought alive rather well, wrapped around a story template that takes inspiration from Goodfellas. There's even time to take aim at the 24 hour news cycle, something that's now a staple, but was rather new back then.

Image result for i, tonya youtube 2017Front and centre of the picture is Margot Robbie, doing a phenomenal job in portraying the eponymous figure skater. She does well capturing the firey nature Harding is more than willing to put front and centre, as well as the vulnerability she tries to hide. At the centre of it all is a need to be loved, stemming from the abusive relationships she has long had with her mother, and with her husband.

Figure skating is her escape, a sport she intends to be the best in, at the expense of her chance to go to college. Unfortunately, she has an uphill battle with an elitist judging criteria, which looks down upon her for not being so financially stable. She has to resort to sewing her own dresses, which results in the judges openly marking her down for her "presentation". When Tonya asks why it can't be just about the skating, we can't help but feel for her plight.

Acting opposite her is Sebastian Stan, portraying Jeff Gillooly, abusive husband to Harding. The pair sizzle when together, selling their tumultuous relationship with such efficiency. At the rate Stan manages to easily flip between charming and terrifying, one would be forgiven for believing he was actually a light switch. Though Paul Walter Hauser deserves commending, playing the films scene stealer as Shawn, the deluded friend of Jeff with a penchant to exaggerate. While Allison Janney fires off swears and insults with such a rapid efficiency, one can't shake the feeling it's all rather one note.

Director Craig Gillespie wisely includes instances of genuine humour, to allow for touches of lightness throughout this upsetting and tragic story. Even some of the more shocking moments, such as the aforementioned attack, are allowed some levity through the ineptitude of the attacker. As for the skating scenes, there's a noticeable use of CG throughout, which is understandable, as it'd be unreasonable to expect Robbie to learn to skate at an Olympic level. Just a shame it's an element that's rather distracting.

Craig Gillespie captures the stranger than fiction nature of I, Tonya with gusto, delivering black comedy in a compelling, yet tragic, narrative. It also helps that the lead performers do such a stunning job embodying their characters.