I finally got around to seeing Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya last week. The film hinges entirely on one aspect: Margot Robbie’s excellent, Oscar-nominated performance as Tonya Harding.
The script by Steven Rogers and Gillespie’s direction do not fully buy into the absurdity of breaking the fourth wall once “The Incident” (the clubbing of Nancy Kerrigan) happens. Surprisingly, this is the film’s weakest part. It excels in showing Harding’s difficult upbringing, but it quickly falls apart from there, playing the more serious issues of the case for laughs.
Allison Janney’s role as Harding’s mother, LaVona Fay Golden, has already earned her an armful of awards and put her on the path to the Oscar. But the better mother performance this year was Laure Metcalf’s in Lady Bird. They are two entirely different characters brought to life by two great performances, but thanks to the Oscars we end up comparing them. Janney gets to curse and say outrageous things in front of her daughter, while Metcalf gives a more emotionally nuanced performance in Greta Gerwig’s film.
Another brilliant aspect of this film is Nicolas Karakatsanis’ under-the-radar cinematography. The ice skating sequences are brought to life with such vigor that you wonder how you could ever watch ice skating on a small screen again. It’s things like that, which successfully make I, Tonya feel more like a true cinematic effort than the made-for-TV movie it could have been.
The story of Tonya Harding is fascinating, and the idea of putting a very unsavory character as the “hero” of the film is always exciting to see. It plays fast and loose with the facts, so it is more of a dramatization of Harding’s version of events than an actual film about “The Incident.” But I, Tonya loses something when it tries to become a procedural through the prism of hapless boobs.
That said, this is Robbie’s best performance. That shot of her putting makeup on at the Olympics will stay with me for a long time. It alone is the reason to see this film on a big screen.