It’s Australia’s own version of Jennifer Lawrence and she’s taking on the world of competitive figure skating. But does she have enough to get a 10/10 from the judges?
Well if you saw the score we’ve given, you can already that the answer to that question is a no. But Margot Robbie’s latest starring role in I, Tonya, isn’t exactly a terrible film either. And it tells one of the most bizarre stories, that ever comes to mind when you think of ice skating controversy. Besides the next most famous film on the topic of course: Blades of Glory.
If you haven’t guessed from the iPhone-like name for a film, I, Tonya examines the real life of champion female figure skater, Tonya Harding. For those who haven’t heard of her, because she was before your time, Tonya Harding was the first female to ever accomplish a triple axel in a competitive event. And if you still don’t know why that is such a big deal, don’t worry, the film will explain that.
Aside from being such a great figure skater, Tonya Harding’s life was also marred by controversy throughout, and this is what most of the film dives into. This leads up to one specific incident with fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan without giving too much away, but the story essentially works as a biopic. It takes you through her difficult upbringing, living with an overbearing, strict mother (Allison Janney), that pushes her to the edge of her mental brink in an effort to become the best figure skater she can be.
This is probably the best part of the film; since Janney’s performance is just fantastic. Not only do we immediately get a sense of where some of the rough attitudes Harding has acquired in her life as an adult comes from, but we also get one hell of an interesting mother figure to watch. And most of the time she’s very funny with her scenes. There’s a weird way you can enjoy someone who’s so mean to another person, simply because they’re brutally honest and speak their mind in such a different way. Suffice to say, every scene with her was a welcomed breath of fresh air and a deserved winner for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscar’s.
What doesn’t work well for I, Tonya, is some of the stylistic choices in the presentation of the narrative. The film works as a semi-documentary type of fictional re-telling; with interviews on each character that narrate the story as it plays out on screen. Of course, this was done to mimic the real-life interviews they were based off, which is a nice comparison seen at the end of the film. But ultimately it detracts from the story to the point where it could have been left out and it would have worked just the same. I’m a supporter of cutting out the unnecessary gunk in any film, and in I, Tonya, it was a script issue that should have re-written from the beginning.
I can still see why they did it, as this biopic wants to stand out as one of those that is edgier and up to speed with how modern audiences want facts presented to them. It’s like a 60 minutes special that has been translated into film, and whilst this might work for some, it can remind others that they’re watching someone talk to the camera and hence break the illusion of cinema, even if this is a riskier attempt to provide realism and a level of truth to the events that transpire. At the end of the day, it is still a risk and in my eyes, it didn’t pay off as much as it was trying to.
Having said all this, I’d still recommend seeing this film. With a score of 7 out of 10, it still represents a good viewing and the story told is crazy enough that you need to see to believe it. When the comparisons with real-life interviews come at the end, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find yourself laughing and shaking your head at what was going on in Tonya Harding’s life. And at the same time, you’ll get some great performances by both Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, for which the latter was simply superb. I, Tonya is still in cinemas but won’t be around for soon, so go see it while you still can.