Movie Reviews

‘I, Tonya’ Review: Me, Entertained

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Quick Take: I, Tonya tells the absurd true story of Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding and "the incident" that ruined her life, and the lives of those around her.

The story of Tonya Harding is well known. In the lead up to the 1992 Olympics, Harding and Nancy Kerrigan dominated news cycles, after Kerrigan was attacked and all signs pointed to Harding as the culprit. As more information leaked out, a tapestry of absurdity formed, with supporting characters too bizarre to be real, a central figure with a troubled past, and a victim that quickly became America’s sweetheart. It was a soap opera playing out in real life. And it was ridiculous. In the new film, I, Tonya, that story is finally told.

Using the technique of interviews with the major players, all giving their side of the story, the legend of Tonya Harding from a young girl (played by McKenna Grace) growing up in Portland, Oregon, with a dream of being a skater, to an Olympic hopeful, to an outcast villain is revealed. We see all of the bumps and bruises that she endures, most from the people closest to her, like her mother and husband. We see her struggle to be accepted, coming from a low income background into a world of money and fame. We see her find love with an abuser, but she sticks with it, as she’s been abused her whole life. And we finally see “the incident” in all its glory, from all sides, and the audience gets a good feel for all that happened.

I, Tonya Review

The script by Steven Rogers was cobbled together from real life interviews with the players in this farce, and director Craig Gillespie didn’t shy away from the natural comedy derived from those interviews. Taking a page from films like Goodfellas and The Big Short, Gillespie tells his story by getting the audience in on the joke early. And we’re all entertained because of it.

Margot Robbie portrays the older Tonya Harding, for better or worse, warts and all, and she succeeds in portraying this “tragic” figure — tragic in that a very talented skater was destroyed by the actions of those around her, though Harding was far from innocent. Sebastian Stan loses himself in Jeff Gillooly’s mustache, playing the man who loved Tonya with his fists, and wanted only the best for his wife. The real standouts come from the supporting cast. Paul Walter Hauser’s turn as Shawn Eckhardt, Gillooly’s best friend, who also thought he was an operative of the CIA, NSA, and other shadowy government organizations, is one of the high points of I, Tonya. Everything he says, everything he does is so off-the-wall that you can’t help but laugh. And again, this is all true.

I, Tonya Review

But the best performance in the film belongs to Allison Janney as Tonya Harding’s mother, LaVona Golden. Janney, with her bowl haircut, her pet bird, and her worst-mother-of-the-year antics absolutely steals I, Tonya with her performance. Even when Tonya was at her lowest, LaVona was there, not for support, but to keep her daughter mired in misery. Above all else, Allison Janney might actually be the worst movie villain of 2017, and she does an admirable job portraying her.

I, Tonya Review

I, Tonya is shocking, not because of what happened, but because it’s so funny. This is one of the funniest movies of the year, and when you remind yourself between bouts of laughter that this really happened, it makes it that much funnier. And to emphasize the point, Gillespie fills the end credits with the actual, real-life interviews from which the script is based, and the audience is left embarrassed that we all laughed so hard, as people were hurting and were being hurt. And that’s where the magic in I, Tonya truly shines.

I, Tonya is one of the best, most entertaining films of 2017, as it tells a story that we all know — at least those of us that lived through it — but it tells the story in an uncomfortably hilarious way. Incredible performances and a very strong script set the foundation and director Gillespie uses that solid foundation to create a cautionary tale. But what exactly it’s cautioning us about is up to the viewer. Sometimes, history can be funny, even when violence is involved, and I, Tonya proves that and more.

I, Tonya is rated R and is in theaters now.

SCORE: 4.6 out of 5

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