HOLLYWOOD—There are those movies that surprise you, and then there are those movies that excite you in ways that you can never imagine. The dramedy, “I, Tonya” is a marvel that has a quirky technique that instantly draws in the viewer and never lets you go until the film ends. The documentary style flick that talks directly the audience while also chronicling the rise and fall of Figure Ice Skater Tonya Harding might be one of the best films I’ve seen in 2017.
Be warned, I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan, so I know the entire tale of that infamous attack on Harding’s rival Nancy Kerrigan all too well. It was the talk of the town for weeks and I mean weeks, where every news outlet wanted to report the story and nearly 20 plus years ago the tale was completely one-sided. With “I, Tonya” the audience gets the opportunity to hear Tonya’s side of the story, but the film does NOT focus solely on that incident alone. That is a smart idea because honestly, I’ve heard enough about it to never want hear it again.
I honestly loved the fact that the film immediately poked fun at the incident in the first act of the movie. The movie kicks off with an epic bang as we see a small tike, who is pushed to join the world of ice skating by her momager and chain-smoking mother, Lavona Harding portrayed with absolute perfection by Emmy-winner Allison Janney. It is unlike anything I’ve seen from Janney in her illustrious career. This woman is a diamond on the big screen; she is foul-mouthed, witty, brash, physically and mentally torturous to her daughter, and displays her love for her daughter by providing her skating lessons.
It’s as if Lavona knows something the rest of the world doesn’t; her daughter is star, it’s just going to take a bit of time for everyone else to realize that. As powerful as Janney’s performance is, she begins to play second fiddle as the second and third acts of the movie takes center stage thanks to phenomenal performances by Margot Robbie as an older Tonya and her abusive, love-sick and at times braindead lover Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).
The narrative shifts from Tonya’s goal of becoming an ice skating superstar to chronicle her tumultuous relationship with Gillooly, which was chaotic to say the least. The constant bickering, the fighting, the gunfire, the sex; this couple was all over the place. However, it’s the performances from Robbie and Stan that completely sell it. They disappear into these characters in ways that quite frankly are a revelation to watch on the screen. I thought Robbie was a standout in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but “I, Tonya” seriously chronicles the actresses’ range and ability to dig deep and portray such a flawed character that you find yourself rooting for her more than hating her.
Without a doubt that was the film’s goal and it works superbly; before watching this movie most probably still hate Harding for her role in Nancy Kerrigan’s attack, but we get a bit more light shed on the situation and the players involved. Sebastian Stan is completely being underestimated in my opinion for awards contention, and I can without a doubt see him as a dark horse who sneaks into the Best Supporting Actor category for the Academy Awards. It’s a performance that is awards worthy and once he shows up on the screen he takes that baton that was passed to him from Janney, who pops in and out of the flick, but Gillooly becomes that character who as a spectator you want to continue to watch.
Robbie seamlessly weaves a tirade of emotions throughout the movie and that courtroom scene where she learns her fate is just magnificent. Director Craig Gillespie crafts the movie in a way that we get to touch base with the actual narrative in between clips of seeing LaVona, Tonya and Jeff share their sides of the story and how things unfolded. While some may see this technique as a distraction, it actually tightens the movie more allowing the viewer to make stronger connections with the characters and the overall story.
“I, Tonya” is honestly at the top of my list for one of the best films of 2017. It has stellar acting from Robbie, Stan and Janney and delivers a story that is quite frankly polarizing, but so enthralling to watch it unfold. This is a movie that will surprise you in more ways than you can imagine; it’s a must see!