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Margot Robbie – Tonya Harding
Sebastian Stan – Jeff Gillooly
Allison Janney – LaVona Golden
Paul Walter Hauser – Shawn Eckhardt
Julianne Nicholson – Diane Rawlinson
Bobby Cannavale – Martin Maddox
Caitlin Carver – Nancy Kerrigan
For fans of figure skating, ice skating and the like, I, Tonya should whet their appetite nicely. This movie blends sport with drama superbly and becomes an almost staged documentary, detailing the life of Tonya Harding like an audio diary. Robbie fronts the movie perfectly by playing different versions of Harding; aspiring teenager. Successful skater. Worldwide phenomenon. Failure. Her narrative parts are shown from an interview camera perspective which splits the movie’s dynamics nicely, albeit a slightly basic setting. This movie plays with the woman’s timeline, giving those familiar with Harding a reminiscent treat – and those not so familiar an entertaining easy-to-follow story which contains very engaging characters.
Cast wise I, Tonya is faultless and has little room for improvement. Robbie and Janney are on-screen dynamite when delivering (often aggressive) scenes where Tonya and her mother come to blows over various personal issues. The energy between the pair is remarkable, radiating an air of tension so genuine it’s like watching an actual documentary most of the time. And Janney’s dreary makeover to become LaVona Golden (mother) gives her an image far from what we’ve seen before, coupled with a matriarch presence we wouldn’t want to endure again. She’s just superb, on a par with Robbie and the casting has to be at least 80% of what makes I, Tonya so captivating. Janney also drops a blinder when her character is told by another parent not to swear in front of children at an ice-skating rink when she says “Christ” – to which she responds, “I didn’t swear, you cunt”.
She makes just a few words so deliciously sharp it’s superb, and the dry humour just keeps flowing. Fans of sarcasm rejoice, this movie is a real treat.
The dressing room scene where Tonya sits applying makeup is powerful, with Robbie delivering a splendid performance. Showing how versatile a performer she is, she starts crying whilst doing her eyeliner then pauses – and fakes the happiest face she can – before heading out into the sports arena where she takes to the ice in competition. This mournful moment radiates sheer desperation, totally open to viewer interpretation as to how and why she feels on the inside as she ages and her popularity begins to wobble with much younger girls gradually taking her place.
I did wonder if those teeth of hers were fake or not. Robbie looks as though her face has been altered in some way, great double-makeup work. And another scene sees Tonya presented with a travesty just before she goes on the ice during a crucial competition, when she encounters a problem with her ice skates.. I’m not even a sports fan but even I was sat there watching in sheer anticipation over what would happen next in front of the crowds she was supposed to be wow-ing instead of crying in front of. Tense stuff there.
I, Tonya documents the life of Tonya Harding in the only way a movie can: it displays each section of her life from toddler to adult. Viewers not only get a full history of the skating champion, but solid performances from each ‘version’ of her (little Mckenna Grace is a joy). And it all flows nicely scene to scene, decade to decade. A historic gem.
This movie’s downfall is its length. It seems to go on and on towards the end. And just when I thought it was coming to its final moments, it continued..
I, Tonya is slick but tends to get lost in its own story at times. It focuses on the main woman but then trails off as various characters come in and out with their own stories (I.E. a lengthy scene with Shawn in his family home discussing his actions with Jeff). This boring stuff feels slightly unnecessary as it meanders on, I started to get bored of an otherwise enjoyable movie. It was classic case, “good – but drags on a bit” and could have been just as good a bit shorter.
And the action slows down whenever Hauser appears, his scenes are slightly tedious for some reason especially when it reaches the Nancy Kerrigan controversy. What I expected to be a darkly enjoyable part of the movie rolled on and on as Shawn trudged around taking a revenge plan a bit too far. I wanted the Tonya-Nancy issue to focus on their relationship and how it came to a head – not to focus on a bumbling pudgy clown act who goes running around pretending he’s a bad boy and let their story slip. But it did this, ultimately losing a vital part of Harding’s history with very rare appearances (twice maximum and under a minute each) by Kerrigan. Not good. It was like Borg VS McEnroe – with hardly any Borg.
I, Tonya is an absolute shameless pleasure. Robbie hammers everything she has into her role and comes out with a winner. She’s on top form with her portrayal of the famous figure skater, all sorts of emotions jet around the screen continuously as competitive splendour turns to jealous rage. And when the emotions do settle for a moment you have a drily honest narrative delivered by Tonya, which ensures the viewer never misses a single detail of her side of the story.
This is definitely worth a watch, and if you’re a sports or skating fan you’ve struck gold.