Sympathy for the devil.
Tanya Harding at one point was known as the greatest figure skater in the world. She was the first person to ever attempt and complete one of the most complicated moves in her sport, the triple axel, and even made it to the Olympics. Unfortunately, she was the most hated person in the world as well due to her supposed involvement in the injuring of her USA Figure Skating teammate and rival, Nancy Kerrigan. We all know Harding eventually faded into obscurity after embarrassing herself by attempting to cling onto whatever celebrity status she had left, but Harding herself feels her side of the story has never been properly conveyed. Perhaps Harding can rest easy now, with relative newcomer and sex-symbol Margot Robbie staring in and producing the story of Tonya’s life, I, Tonya.
I, Tonya follows the life of world famous figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), a red-neck born and raised in Portland, Oregon. She is forced into figure skating by her abusive mother, LaVonna Golden (Allison Janney), who also pulls Tonya out of school to focus solely on a career in the sport. Along the way, Harding meets Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), her first love and husband, who also abuses her. The film follows Tonya’s chaotic life and her connection to the attack on her arch rival, Nancy Kerrigan.
For most of her career, Margot Robbie has been relegated to being a sex-object. Nobody recognized her talent in The Wolf of Wall Street, they only noticed the amount of times she took her clothes off. The same can be said of her roles in Focus and Suicide Squad, but I, Tonya proves Robbie is more than a sex symbol. Robbie is electric as Harding, captivating us by illuminating her struggles as a talented but unwanted commodity by her family and the figure skating community. Robbie is able to make us feel sorry for Harding, who to this day retains much of her villainous status due to her involvement in the attack of Kerrigan. Her Golden Globe nomination for “Best Actress in a Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy” is well deserved, and she most definitely will be up for “Best Actress” at the Academy Awards later this awards season.
Not to be outdone, however, is Allison Janney as Tonya’s vicious and crass mother. Janney won the Golden Globe for “Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture”, and for good reason. She delivers the performance of her career in the film, and should be up for a “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar. Sebastian Stan is also marvelous as Harding’s husband, and proves there’s life after the Marvel Cinematic Universe for him. One of the more underrated performers who hasn’t gotten any awards love is Paul Walter Hauser, who plays Shawn Eckhardt, Tonya Harding’s “bodyguard.” Hauser is a riot, and while the unknown actor isn’t up for “Best Supporting Actor” consideration, hopefully he’ll get more work in Hollywood sooner rather than later.
Much credit must be given to the style of the film, as it goes back and forth between interviews in mockumentary-style set in the modern day and flashbacks with fourth wall breaking. This allows the characters to be unfiltered and exposed, which lets us as an audience formulate our own opinions on these real life figures and the true story circumstances they experienced. Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers execute this style almost perfectly, and captivates audiences even though most of us know how the story ends. The film does overstay its welcome towards the end, but one can hardly fault the film for trying to cram in every element of Harding’s tumultuous life.
I, Tonya is an unforgettable bio-pic. It takes a fascinating subject matter whom most of us have already formulated an opinion of and thought we would maintain that same opinion for the rest of time, and accomplishes the impossible task of changing our minds. With tremendous performances from Robbie and Janney that should result in more awards love come time for the Academy Awards, I, Tonya is one of the best films of 2017, and leaves us having sympathy for the devil.
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 Stars. Pay Full Price.
I, Tonya stars Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser, Julianne Nicholson, and Bobby Canavale. It is in theaters now.