Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney
Director: Craig Gillespie
Running Time: 119 mins
I, Tonya is an American film about the true story of Tonya Harding, a talented figure skater whose meteoric rise to the top of her sport was dramatically interrupted after ex-husband became too involved.
This film really blew me away. Centring around a true story that I’ve personally never heard of, taking place in a sport which I have next to no interest or knowledge in, I, Tonya still feels like one of the best biopics ever made, as it powers along throughout with a vehement pace, telling a riveting and massively exciting story, and featuring brilliant comedy, drama, music, directing, dialogue and performances at every moment, making for a film that you will be totally captivated by from beginning to end.
Let’s start off with the fact that this isn’t really a film about figure skating. In actual fact, it’s an enthralling character study of skater Tonya Harding, and the role that her difficult personal life played in ultimately causing a huge scandal. Although I haven’t heard of it, the scandal is one that (according to the film) shocked the world, meaning that the film also offers some riveting focus on the concepts of the role of the media and the public in scandals such as these.
So, with its deeply character-focused story centring around a controversial figure of recent history, the film has the perfect ingredients for a great biopic, and what’s more is that it’s made in very similar fashion to one of the best directors’ biopics: Martin Scorsese.
Apart from the fact that it may not have quite as much profanity or violence, you’d be hard pressed not to think of Scorsese when watching this film. Its story of rags to riches and back to rags is very reminiscent of the likes of Goodfellas and The Wolf Of Wall Street, while the use of various techniques such as fourth wall-breaking narration, a combination of very dark comedy and a brilliant contemporary soundtrack all hark back to the best that Scorsese has had to offer, meaning that if you’re a fan of the legendary director’s work, I, Tonya will undoubtedly be a treat.
Of course, I shouldn’t keep going on about Scorsese, because this isn’t a Scorsese movie. Here, director Craig Gillespie does a stunning job from start to finish. Apart from brilliantly taking inspiration from Scorsese, Gillespie crafts a film that moves along at an amazingly intense pace, taking you up and down and up and down on a rollercoaster of twists and turns over the course of Tonya Harding’s career, making for an exceptionally exciting watch (particularly for those who don’t know the true story).
What’s more is that Gillespie gets the balance of comedy and drama here absolutely spot-on. On the one hand, I, Tonya is an absolutely hilarious film, with fantastic character-oriented comedy throughout that makes the movie a real laugh to watch (in similar fashion to the likes of The Wolf Of Wall Street), but on the other, that never cheapens the riveting and thrilling dramatic story on display, as you’re sucked in from the very first scene into a film that just won’t let up when it comes to revealing fascinating details and surprises throughout.
Of course, the balance of comedy and drama wouldn’t work so well without a good screenplay, and I, Tonya definitely has just that. Writer Steven Rogers does a stunning job to craft a screenplay that features fantastic dialogue from start to finish, with lines that rattle along in rapid-fire conversations, arguments and interviews, adding to the film’s pace and energy significantly, and a combination of brilliantly funny comedic dialogue throughout with dramatically riveting and often even emotionally powerful depth. In the end, that all comes together to make I, Tonya an endlessly exhilarating film, whether it be on its comedic side or dramatic biopic side, something that really blew me away.
Finally, we come to the performances, which are all just as fantastic as the rest of the film. In the lead role, Margot Robbie stuns in what is without doubt her best performance yet, thanks to a loud-mouthed, confident and very energetic turn as skater Tonya Harding. However, what I really liked about Robbie’s performance, and the whole film in general, was that it didn’t portray Harding as a typical rebel of the sport for no reason, but instead showed that she is a very genuine person right to the core, and instead gave brilliant context as to why she didn’t grow up in line with the stereotypically prim and pretty image of figure skaters.
And that context is further borne out thanks to the performance of Allison Janney, who is the real stand-out of the movie for me. Playing the hard-as-nails mother of Tonya Harding, Janney amazes from beginning to end with her equally foul-mouthed performance, but it’s the brilliant contrast she shows in her character between the relentless and fairly mean mother that hardened her daughter into the woman she became, and the mother that deep down does care, and although may show it in unorthodox ways, does have a real heart and genuine place in this story.
Robbie and Janney definitely give the two best performances in the movie, however there are still a whole heap of brilliant turns across the board, particularly from the likes of Sebastian Stan, who thrills as Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, and Paul Walter Hauser as family friend Shawn, both of whom really add yet more great comedy and drama to the film with their fantastic performances.
In the end, I absolutely adored I, Tonya. A stunningly exciting and entertaining film that uses Scorsese-style directing and dialogue to assert itself, it takes you on a wild rollercoaster that’s absolutely enthralling from beginning to end, and features hilarious comedy and riveting drama along the way, all brilliantly brought to life by a collection of exceptional performances, which is why I’m giving it a 9.1.