There were many films of 2017 that I regrettably almost missed the first time around. Whether it be theatrical release delays or my inability to get out to the movies, I just about skipped out on some excellent film-going experiences. Including such wonderful hits as The Shape of Water, The Post, and the film I’m reviewing today, I, Tonya.
I, Tonya captures the rise and fall of the Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, from her rough early years growing up to her participation in the 1992 and 1994 Olympics. Also, to receive a lot of focus was the controversial assault on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan during the Olympics, and the unknown level of involvement Harding had in the attack. From here we see not only the aftermath of the attack, but how many of Tonya’s life events led up to that controversy.
The story takes a rather interesting mockumentary perspective in its storytelling, mixing the events of the past with fictional interviews of the present, all while frequently breaking the fourth wall. Through this, the audience is given great commentary (and surprisingly, plenty of laughs) on the contentious assault of Nancy Kerrigan, an incident that many are still confused on.
Margot Robbie as Tonya and Allison Janney as her mother LaVona were two noteworthy performances among a plethora of convincing, superb acting. What I particularly liked about Robbie’s performance was how very real she portrayed Tonya. The viewer felt every painful moment she experienced, and I’m sure her very real-life conflicts resonated with a lot of people.
I, Tonya has this crude, dark sense of humor that it wears like a badge in many situations. Even when discussing sensitive topics and ideas, the tone remained oddly tongue-in-cheek. Themes of domestic violence, abusive parenting, and working-class woes are treated with witty tastelessness. It’s this kind of macabre humor that I appreciate seeing, specifically because it’s so difficult to do well without coming off as repugnant. Films like The Belko Experiment try to capture it and fail miserably. Films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and A Clockwork Orange utilize it effectively and in return get a great payoff.
The conclusion of I, Tonya was admittedly the most disappointing part of the film for me, mostly because it takes such an apologetic tone towards Harding. A film that, up until then, seemed to relish in its own impartiality towards the events and people depicted, ended up resorting to Hollywood schmaltz. By this point in I, Tonya the audience already felt sympathy towards Harding and her unfortunate position, so there was no point in manipulating the audience into believing she was some persecuted angel. In fact, portraying her in this light was a complete one-eighty from how they’d been portraying her previously.
At the heart of it all, Tonya Harding was an unconventional individual, and far from the American sweetheart people and judges wanted her to be. I, Tonya accurately depicts her for who she is, a human. Not only in her faults, but her tragically flawed upbringing that is a reality for so many people.
Throwing in plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and terrific portrayals, I, Tonya turned out to be one of the best biopics of 2017 and is definitely worth a watch.
The Verdict: A-