CRAIG GILLESPIE | USA | ENGLISH | 2017 | 119 MIN
Margot Robbie shines as the champion athlete turned Hard Copy sensation in this dark, energetic, shockingly hilarious, surprising, touching biopic of figure skater Tonya Harding.
It’s unlikely that anyone will be able to think of Tonya Harding quite the same way after watching Craig Gillespie’s revelatory biopic I, TONYA, an empathic ode to defiance centered around a divisive antiheroine. Even as it unabashedly indulges in the inherent spectacle of the disgraced skater’s meteoric rise and fall, Gillespie’s assured direction emphasizes real heart behind the salacious facade. It’s a tricky tone to pull off, but Gillespie and his marvelous cast nail the landing. Interspersed with mockumentary-style interviews with Harding and other key players 25 years after “The Incident” (aka the attack on Harding’s figure skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan), I, TONYA traces Tonya’s disaster-prone trajectory from humble beginnings, to unexpected athletic prowess, to worldwide tabloid infamy. Her tumultuous personal life is a source of both pathos and grim comedy. Facing adversity and trauma from a young age, Tonya grew up with an abusive, narcissistic, jealous mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), one that belongs in the pantheon of terrible cinematic parents. Janney’s brilliant, foul-mouthed performance–like the film in general–feels all the more outrageous for being grounded in the truth. Even as Tonya beats the odds to become a skating champion, she’s dragged down by her attraction to affable losers like on-again/off-again husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who paves the way for Tonya’s inevitable ruin. Of course, the success of I, Tonya wouldn’t be possible without the committed, ferocious performance at its center, and Margot Robbie delivers, giving her most impressive performance to date. Her Tonya isn’t just a trailer trash femme fatale or a misunderstood martyr. Instead, Robbie emerges with a tragicomic portrait that leans into this complicated woman’s least likable traits while forcing the viewer to recognize her flawed, fragile humanity.
CAST: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Julianne Nicholson, Allison Janney
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