Two incredible acting performances elevate the film
Based on a true story, I, Tonya is a raw, relentless journey through the life of controversial US ice skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie). Carried by strong performances from Tonya and her mother (Allison Janney), I, Tonya is an artistic film, bouncing between face to face interviews, creatively using this structure at key moments of the film that predominantly follows Tonya’s rise and eventual fall in the skating world. There’s a finely tuned balance between the comedy, drama and tragedy elements throughout and this really works in I, Tonya’s favour. A lack of likeable characters does give this biographical film a passive feel during some of the more intimate moments but thankfully it doesn’t detract too much from the appeal of this slickly made film.
I, Tonya begins with a series of interviews with key players that crop up through the 2 hour run time including Tonya, her mother and her estranged, abusive husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan). It’s here that the film first showcases some of its humour before shifting to show Tonya as a child as she’s first introduced to ice skating. Beginning as a 4-year-old and working up to the cusp of Olympic fame, the first half of the film is mired in optimism before the scandal that leads to Tonya’s fall from grace. I, Tonya is a well paced film that manages to handle the source material effortlessly without ever feeling contrived or over the top with the dramatic elements. The raw, emotionally charged narrative works well for the most part although the lack of emotional connection to any of the characters other than Tonya does dampen what’s otherwise a well written script.
Much like Darkest Hour last month, I, Tonya really feels like a platform to showcase the acting. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney absolutely steal the show, especially when they share the screen time. The supporting cast are good too but its these two lead actors that really stand out. One of the best scenes in the film shows a distraught Tonya sitting in front of a mirror trying to feign a smile and this tiny 30 second scene accentuates what great acting there is in this film. There are other little moments like this dotted throughout and thankfully the great script and acting is helped by some really slick editing and cinematography.
Technically, I, Tonya is very well presented too. There’s a unique punk rock feel to much of the run time and the conflict between Tonya’s skating and her personal life is well-balanced, doing a great job of showing just how far from grace Tonya falls. There’s some beautifully composed long shots on the ice that show off the technical skills of the skating and the rotating long shots in Tonya’s house as she’s arguing with Jeff accentuate how toxic their relationship has become. There are times where the music is a little overpowering though and with a number of tracks showing up throughout, I, Tonya does suffer somewhat from a relentless musical barrage that distracts unnecessarily from what’s happening on screen.
Despite a few set backs, I, Tonya is still a very well made film. A lack of likeability for many of the characters as well as an unusually high number of music tracks does take away from the film slightly but there’s enough here to look past this. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney steal the show with incredible performances, helped along by a very well written script, balancing the comedy and drama elements that work harmoniously together for much of the run time. I, Tonya isn’t perfect; it’s a little rough around the edges at times but there’s enough here to confidently say I, Tonya is a very good film and well worth watching.