TIFF 2017: I, Tonya Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson
Published Sep 14, 2017Australian actress Margot Robbie gained the respect of critics with last year's Suicide Squad (frankly, she was the only good thing about it), and she's making a serious go at Oscar gold with I, Tonya, Craig Gillespie's farcical take on the life of American figure skater Tonya Harding and the events that led to her dismissal from the sport.
Much like the Miramax movies of old, it's a boundary pushing art-house flick designed for the average moviegoer that has more style than substance, incorporating faux-documentary tropes, asides that break the fourth wall and the manic energy of a David O. Russell film.
Its tonal choices don't always match its subject matter. In telling Harding's tale, Gillespie tackles some pretty tough subjects, including the years of abuse at the hands of her mother (played by Allison Janney, who delivers each line like she's in an R-rated episode of Mom) and boyfriend-turned-husband Jeff (underrated supporting actor Sebastian Stan), as well as the classism that prevented her from climbing the podium as often as she should have (and ultimately led to the hit that nearly derailed Nancy Kerrigan's career and caught the world's attention).
Robbie — playing Harding from the time she was a teenager all the way up to her grizzled state as a late-night TV punchline and forgotten figure — gives a career-defining performance that delivers humour, pathos and remorse. (Many critics have been quick to compare it to Charlize Theron's total transformation in the award-winning Monster, and with good reason.)
Sadly, the hamminess that abounds detracts from its overall message. At the film's conclusion, Harding talks straight to the camera, confronting the audience and comparing her portrayal in the media to the violence she suffered for years leading up to it. But by being so loose with its characters and comedy, I, Tonya is also part of the problem. (Like a lot of dramedies with characters from low-income backgrounds, their depictions here feel more problematic than poignant.)
Early on in the movie, Harding is described as a true American, a girl from the wrong side of town who would stop at nothing to accomplish her goals. I, Tonya, similarly, is a distinctly American film, a brash picture that overshoots, but still commands your attention, warts and all. (VVS)