Dark, stylish and quirky — Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya is perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise of 2017.
Based on a true story, I Tonya follows the story of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) whose career as an athlete collided with the biggest scandal in the world of figure skating, as her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) hires a hitman to knock down Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s biggest rival during the 1994 US Figure Skating Championship.
The film is told in a ‘he said, she said’ account, styled in a mockumentary approach, based on completely contradicting stories by both Harding and Gillooly. Their versions of their truth, including the media’s, made the film a whirlwind of testimonials that’ll make you choose whose side are you on. I particularly admire how screenwriter Steven Rogers broke the fourth wall as these characters start talking to the audience, as if convincing the viewers to believe them. Yes, they are selling their versions of truth to movie goers (literally), which shows how the public had a great involvement towards Harding’s scandal. How everyone’s judgment manifested on how she was later excommunicated from her profession; how the media frenzy hypnotized everyone’s perspectives; and how the truth, as they all know it, will never come out raw.
Margot Robbie’s fierce commitment to the role was as sharp as her skates colliding on ice. She is roaring like a mad lion, yet she has managed to turn this infamous (not to mention, hated) icon into a human being. The emotional resonance she gave was very much unexpected, and she completely sold Harding’s version of the truth without trying too hard. She committed to the ‘Tonya’ version in her head, and gave such a layered performance that never felt vain or cartoonish.
Allison Janney as LaVona Golden, Harding’s estranged, abusive mother, gave us a witch-like performance, her presence alone is scary enough she need not to utter a word. She’s a great reminder of J.K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher in Whiplash (2014), only that Janney’s character was never human. She’s a spun of the devil, and not once did she ever make me like her. I guess that is a testament for an excellent portrayal. Janney gave the performance of her career, and every accolade she has received is so well-deserved.
The unsung hero of the film is Sebastian Stan as Harding’s eccentric husband, Jeff Gillooly. I think his performance is a force of nature, whose crazy antics are savage enough that you’d think Tonya Harding is completely tamed. Stan deserved at least a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
On a technical aspect, the editing of the film is perhaps one of the year’s best — if not, the best. Everything is so seamless. The storytelling of juggling the different versions of truth on camera smoothly and swiftly is very commendable. There was never a dull moment on screen, as if you’re riding one character psyche after another.
The film’s downfall, however, is its visual effects. How Robbie’s face was pasted onto her stunt double on so many of her skating scenes is so flawed, it’s almost laughable. Her face is literally on a different lighting and color than that of the actual body. The movement of her face sometimes isn’t in sync with the movement of her double’s body. It was very obvious, you’d think “how did this get through post production without no one noticing?” Other than that, it was pretty much forgivable.
Overall, I, Tonya is wildly entertaining, spearheaded by an excellent cast. Margot Robbie is gold, and this will remain as the performance of her career for a very long time. It’s dark, it’s quirky, it’s funny, it’s emotional, its filmmaking is artsy — basically, it’s everything.