So this afternoon was a trip to see the Bafta award winning, Oscar nominated, I, Tonya.
Having also very recently seen Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, naturally a large part of me was judging our lead, Margot Robbie and indeed her supporting actress, Allison Janney against those nominated in this latter film. Having already set the bar, in my opinion almost unreachably high with Frances McDormand’s outstanding performance, I didn’t see Robbie’s as a possible equal. However, Margot Robbie is quite simply put, an absolute pro.
So I, Tonya depicts the true story of competitive ice-skater, Tonya Harding and her rise through the ranks of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. However her career is thrown into turmoil with the interventions of her husband and her subsequent suspect involvement in the attack on skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan.
I think what’s admirable about this re-telling, is its ability to entertain us, I guess mostly through this story’s shocking reality, yet it never loses sight of its achingly tragic and deeply emotional core. A very particular example of this is through Tonya’s mother, played by the Bafta award winning, Allison Janney. Janney’s LaVona is sensationally wicked; her motherly instincts appear to have fallen spectacularly out of the window, replaced solely by competition. However the truth of LaVona’s behaviour, although not justified and far from reasonable, Janney is able to play with a complexity that is neither quite explainable.
Tonya’s husband, Jeff Gillooly played by Sebastian Stan is, I would argue more blatant a character. I like the casting of Stan for this role. I think most would agree, Stan is able to portray someone who is both buffoon yet sickeningly volatile by nature. Both Stan and Robbie present to us a raw physicality that is brutally orchestrated, genuine and the inclusion of which, necessary for a deeper vision of Tonya.
For me, I understand this film to be about the victim that was eventually Nancy Kerrigan, and although Robbie makes sure to never level Tonya as quite this, importantly we remain able to totally sympathise with the tragic circumstances and traumatic life that Tonya battled with throughout her youth. This is carefully never overshadowed by “the incident”. Tonya is at heart a survivor, not a victim and this is brutally yet beautifully withdrawn by Robbie, without the need to demonise nor excuse her.
So really praise is definitely owed to Craig Gillespie, who examples a striking biopic that is ridiculously extreme yet believable, with a constant air of fighting determination at its element.
With I, Tonya you should be prepared to ride your way over every emotion scene by scene. Although not always what I look for in a film, this seems more than necessary to explore all truths that drive this story. Also cleverly you’re not exasperated by the ups and downs of this film, it remains gripping without exhausting every reaction one has.
So would I recommend this film? Yes. Would I see this film again? Yes. With its array of daring female performances, I Tonya, is certainly a worthy Oscar contender.