Any time someone mentions Tonya Harding, they are reminded of the train wreck that dominated the U.S. Figure Skating Championship. I, Tonya is a reminder of a simpler time. Craig Gillespie directed a semi-biographical film about the hick figure skater and her rise to infamy. Based off of Steven Rogers’ script, it is done in an entertaining and highly questionable true-life story.
Margo Robbie does an excellent job of taking on the lead role. Obviously, she is incredibly better looking than the real-life Harding. However, during the course of the movie, you notice her knack for capturing the character and giving her a sense of likeability that her real-life counterpart wasn’t able to achieve. The role definitely aims for the “I’m the victim” perspective and still leaves the whole “did she know” aspect a bit ambiguous.
During the course of the film, it tries to show that Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) knew a bit more than he led on. The film flips from dramatization of the events intercut with a documentary style interview. There are even some very hilarious breaking the fourth wall moments. The interviews play Gillooly as a less-than-sophisticated spouse, but that he may have been the mastermind of the whole thing.
The true standout in the film is Allison Janney as Tonya’s mother, LoVona Golden. Janney has played a variety of different roles in her career, usually the motherly type. However, aged and cursing like a sailor, Janney is deserving of the recognition she is receiving for the role. Neither the script, nor the character’s portrayal, shows LoVona in a positive light. Although, with the nature of the film’s perspective, it remains to be seen how accurate the depiction is.
The film focuses on Tonya claiming to be the best figure skater in the world, yet her demeanor gave her less credibility. The perspective is that of the system is against her, but much of that can be seen as her own doing. Again, with the variations of her life told in various interviews, it is questionable that this is the final cut.
The film tries to capture the seventies, eighties and nineties. For the most part, manages to do it very well. The skating sequences tried to bring the camera into the performance. With the use of computer-generated mapping, Robbie’s face was digitally mapped onto the body of the stunt double. Unfortunately, the smaller budget of the film allowed the CG to be noticeable. The several times it was used definitely took me out of the film.
Overall, the movie is fun to watch. While the film does not claim to be based on a true story, they let you know that up front. They use two wildly contradictory interviews to put the film together. Robbie is unapologetic as the character, while Stan plays Gillooly on that fine line between dweeb and abuser. Janney’s performance is worth the price of admission right there.