Revisionist history is a threat to any movie about real people, especially if they are still alive and kicking. As wildly entertaining as I, Tonya is, it certainly feels as if history is being rewritten for Tonya Harding’s behalf. Perhaps she deserves it — according to the film she was a spunky ice skater who was rarely given a fair chance to represent America on ice, and she had almost nothing to do with the assault on Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 U. S. Figure Skating Championships. Everyone’s story deserves to be told, one way or another, and this is Harding’s opportunity. And to be fair, the film does not whitewash her story; just the opposite.
Craig Gillespie’s film is very cinematic, utilizing beautifully composed shots, masterful use of slow motion and a (rather jarring) breaking of the “fourth wall” to make its salient points. It is beautifully acted by Margot Robbie (sensational as Harding; Robbie also produced the film), Allison Janney (as Harding’s hideous mother) and Sebastian Stan. It is rebellious to its core, from fully embracing the backwoods charm of the characters to the pervasive profanity that constantly punctuates the dialogue. Even the skating is good; I could swear that Robbie is doing all of those jumps and twirls herself.
This is filmmaking for a modern audience; nothing is remotely boring about it. It’s in-your-face (sometimes literally) cinema where violence is always near the surface, but so is a raucous humanity. Harding proves herself to be a survivor, even when her lifelong dreams are crushed by an institution that would rather she had never had dreams in the first place. The comedy is dark, yet effective, and a persuasive case is built that Tonya Harding deserves respect in addition to all the hate she has received for the Kerrigan assault.
An attention-grabber for sure, I, Tonya is also one of the better films of the year. It may be the “National Enquirer” version of Tonya Harding’s life story rather than the “Time” version, but it is powerful and funny and eye-popping nonetheless. Its sensationalism is refreshing and energizing, while Margot Robbie proves herself to be the equal of any actress working today with this performance. It isn’t pretty, but it is a very entertaining, even enlightening look at someone whose persona we thought we already knew. ☆ ☆ ☆ 1/2. 10 February 2018.