Review: I, TONYA (2018) 'the dark comedy delivers plenty of punchlines but Tonya Harding isn't one of them'


Joseph Friar

By Joseph Friar
Jan. 8, 2018 at 10:46 p.m.

Review: I, TONYA (2018)
Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bobby Cannavale. Directed by Craig Gillespie

Whatever opinion you hold about disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, I guarantee it’ll change after viewing “I, Tonya.” Margot Robbie in the performance of her career is metamorphosed into the former Olympian and Skate America Champion who became known for her involvement in the plot to take out figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. The rags to riches to rags redneck story is a hoot that dispels Harding’s involvement in the attack while giving the audience plenty of laughs and an unexpected case of the feels. Allison Janney’s portrayal as Harding’s abusive mother LaVona Golden is one of the best performances of the year.

Australian director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Steven Rogers turn Harding’s tragic story into a dark comedy without undermining the years of abuse that molded Tonya Harding into the woman that she became. Shot in a quasi-documentary format that gives all the main players a chance to become the narrator, the film comes at you Coen brothers style as the cast plays it straight to deliver the laughs. Let me quash any assumption that Harding is the butt of the joke in Gillespie’s biopic. Quite contrary, the film goes to bat for Harding by pummeling the notion harder than Kerrigan’s knee that she was oblivious to the attack on her main competitor.

Robbie delivers an impeccable performance as she battles Janney for the best white-trash impersonation. There is a “Mommy Dearest” or “Anti-Lady Bird” mother and daughter relationship at play that partly explains how Harding became the bad seed, always defiant and unflinching. But Harding also made some very bad choices that included falling for the wrong guy, her abusive ex, Jeff Gillooly played by Sebastian Stan, and surrounding herself with idiots like faux-bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (a very funny Paul Walter Hauser) who came up with the scheme to threaten Kerrigan. Together Gillooly and Eckhardt were responsible for hiring Shane Stant, the man responsible for using a baton to club Kerrigan in the knee in the hopes of breaking her leg to eliminate her from the competition. Harding knew nothing about the proposed hit as Robbie in her blue denim jacket screams “Who does that?!” while puffing on a cigarette.

Harding was a talented figure skater, no doubt. She was the first woman to nail two triple Axels in a single competition, an amazing feat, but it was Harding’s bad taste that gave her an unfair disadvantage with the other skaters. From the tacky homemade outfits (a fur coat she made from skinned rabbits) to her musical selections which included LaTour’s “People Are Still Having Sex,” Harding didn’t fit the wholesome image that judges were looking for and it cost her points. She was a rebel who stuck to her guns and resisted the pressure to conform while all around people were telling her she was no good.

It’s been 23 years since Harding made headlines around the world and no doubt some moviegoers will be totally unfamiliar with her story. For those that remember the scandal and first-timers who are just getting acquainted with the colorful hell-on-ice Harding, the film should be equally entertaining. You’re not purchasing a ticket to see a boring biopic of a figure skater, this is more like gangsters on ice. You’ll laugh and cheer as Harding gets the vindication she deserves. “I, Tonya” is one of the funniest films of 2017 with plenty of punchlines, but Tonya Harding isn’t one of them. Not anymore.

(4 stars)



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