If you’re still not convinced that Margot Robbie is more than just a beauty, I, Tonya should do the trick. Robbie helped produce the film and has given herself a superb, eye-opening vehicle as ice-skater Tonya Harding, who made worldwide headlines in the early 1990s when her husband arranged to injure Tonya’s Olympics competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Screenwriter Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie have fashioned a faux interview framework for the narrative. That, and having characters address the camera, gives I, Tonya a snarky, “meta” quality that perfectly suits the material. They could have made a completely serious docudrama or turned the absurdities of the story into a farce. Instead, they drew the best from both worlds with felicitous results.

Tonya Harding never had it easy, as we learn early on when we meet her monstrous mother, brilliantly played by Allison Janney in an Oscar-caliber performance. Janney disappears into this frowzy character completely and is frighteningly convincing as a woman with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

The same is true for Sebastian Stan as Harding’s flagrantly abusive husband. It’s a key to Harding’s character that not only puts up with his violent behavior but returns to him more than once, admitting that she thinks these incidents are usually her fault. What a striking contrast to the confidence a champion athlete has to project.

This, too, is a crucial part of the story. Harding never came across as a wholesome, all-American girl—in her demeanor, dress, and choice of music—because she wasn’t. Her scores reflected the prejudices and expectations of the judges.

Robbie faces all of this head-on, in her modern-day interview segments and the flashbacks that dominate the film. She never asks for our sympathy, but at the same time refuses to take the blame for anything bad that happened during her career. It’s always somebody else’s fault.

I couldn’t take my eyes from the screen watching I, Tonya. This is solid, clever entertainment that reveals a true story I never knew, even though I remember those winter Olympics and the circus that it became. Cheers to everyone who collaborated on this first-rate film…and a deep bow to Margot Robbie.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024