I, Tonya (2017) reviewed by Jonathan Berk
I often look back upon the ‘90s with fond memories, and movies based on events back then definitely trigger those nostalgic feelings. My grandmother was a huge figure skating fan, so when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked and her competitor Tonya Harding was implicated, it was a big topic of conversation in my household. Despite remembering the event, I never really looked into a lot of the details of the people involved. I, Tonya (2017) is an entertaining retelling of the events leading up to the attack and the consequences those involved face, featuring some darkly comedic moments and an excellent cast.
I, Tonya is an engaging biopic
The film is framed as modern day interview sessions of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie/Mckenna Grace/Maizie Smith), LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and her bodyguard, Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), looking back at the notorious bashing of Kerrigan’s knee. Director Craig Gillespie periodically inserts flashbacks, illustrating the topics of the interviews while using some interesting cinematic techniques to make the scenes all the more interesting, and often hilarious. In one of these sequences, there is a moment where things aren’t going so well between Gillooly and Harding, and the camera moves through the house in one long take, while Gillooly shows up in various rooms at various stages, showing his decline into depression.
Some of the best sequences visually in the film are of Harding ice skating. The camera floats around her as she jumps, spins, and dances on the ice. There are several instances of this in the film, but not so many that it lessens their impact. Each actress playing Harding gets a chance at being on the ice, though not all get the special cinematic treatment. The earlier scenes on the ice contain some of the best lines from LaVona, as she gives “advice” to Harding. Janney is definitely one of the biggest highlights in the film, but the whole cast is great. Their relationship is often extremely brutal and confrontational.
A major element portrayed in the film is the history of domestic violence that Harding was a victim of throughout her life. Initially from her mother, and eventually from Gillooly. When it is depicted in this film, it’s sudden and shocking, and treated with some comedy. How Gillespie manages to insert some fourth-wall-breaking in the middle of these scenes is engaging, and often innovative. The film gets some really big laughs and tells the story in a way that feels fresh.
I, Tonya is a great example of a biopic. It manages to tell a lot of Harding’s life but doesn’t get bogged down at any point with mundane details. The humor in the film doesn’t seem to be mocking the characters, with the exception of Shawn. There is some crazy stuff in this story that borders on the absurd, so the humor really works in those moments. I, Tonya earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.