I was very fortunate to be able to attend the opening of the 26th annual Philadelphia Film Festival where they had screened I, Tonya. From all the festivals that this film was shown at I heard wonderful things about it, and you know withall the good press it has been getting it certainly is true. This film has the dark humor like Fargo, but it is wrapped into a well-acted and structed sports biopic about one of the most prolific figure skaters of the late 80’s and early 90’s Tonya Harding.
When people think Tonya Harding they think of infamous Nancy Kerrigan incident that happened in January of 1994. The film does cover this in such a hilarious and bonkers way, but the film also explores Harding’s upbringing from her abusive mother and Harding’s relationship with her abusive husband Jeff Gillooly. The film is intertwined with “interviews” from present day of Tonya, Gillooly, Harding’s mother & skating teacher, Gilloly’s best friend Shawn Eckhardt, and a reporter. The director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours) and writierSteven Rogers (Hope Floats, Kate & Leopold) craft this film in such a way that makes the filmshocking with its irreverent humor and serious when it comes to Harding’s life and upbringing. Gillespie smartly directs the “interviews” as they are seamlessly edited with how we see Tonya go through her life to where she is when she is now in her life. Rogers script is reminiscent of a Coen Brother’s script with its dark witty and outrageous sense of humor, but also really getting into the heart of Tonya’s life and her relationships with the people around her and how she saw herself as before and after the Kerrigan incident.
Margot Robbie puts in an Oscar worthy performance of her young career here as Tonya Harding. When you view the film, you do not see Robbie, you see a fictionalized movie version of Tonya Harding and she is that electric when it comes to this performance. Robbie can showcase both the humor and dramatic moments to where you can laugh at and with her, but also sympathize with herin the struggles of her life. Sebastian Stan portrays Jeff Gillooywith what can be viewed as scary to watch in the abuse scenes, but also hilarity when it comes to the plan involving the Kerrigan incident and when we cut to him being interviewed in the present day. Paul Walter Hauser portrays Shawn Eckhardt the best friend of Gilloy who plans the Kerrigan attack; most of his scenes are just too funny not to laugh at because of how idiotic and dumb he is. Finally, Allison Janney who is Harding’s mother in a performance that is sure to earn her an Oscar nomination. Janney is scary good in the role where you can’t help but laugh at times when she is being so cruel to Tonya, but also despise her at the same time. That is a testament to how well Janney weaves in and out of the dark humor and drama.
A shout out to the makeup team who made the actors look almost unrecognizable throughout the film. I, Tonya does paint Tonya Harding in a sympathetic light where we as an audience want to root and cheer for her and understand how her life became the way it did. We also see how her relationships with Gillooy, Kerrigan, figure skating, and the American public shaped her she was. Though it is up to the viewer to decide how they feel at the end of the movie about Tonya and if previous viewpoints about her change after watching this film. I, Tonya is the Tonya Harding movie that you didn’t know you wanted which pulls no punches and offers a dark comedic spin on the infamous figure skater that sees her rise and fall in the figure skating world and possibly the public eye of America.