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.