Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, ferociously driven by her mother (Allison Janney), but her future in the sport is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) intervenes.
Review by Louise Keller:
Savagely black, hilariously funny and peppered with an underbelly of pathos, I, Tonya may not deliver the whole truth, but there is no denying the version it presents is wonderfully entertaining. Based on a true story, the elements and characters are so bizarre it would be impossible to invent them. It's a film about truth, lies and dreams. Dreams that turn sour. A tale of rags to riches, dysfunctional families, abusive relationships and second chances. The humour is vicious.
Craig Gillespie (who could ever forget the extraordinary, Lars and the Real Girl, 2007?) has taken the scandalous 1994 Tonya Harding figure skating incident and come up with a sparkling multi-faceted diamond. The film rates a perfect score, thanks to Steven Rogers' cleverly crafted screenplay and a dazzling performance from Margot Robbie. It is Robbie's first opportunity to show her range and she makes the most of every moment, displaying great comedic flair and emotional ballast while also handling the ice with grace. Everything is played straight and Gillespie handles the tone beautifully.
We are thrust off-balance from the outset: the film begins with mockumentary-style interviews by the key characters. These include Tonya (Robbie), blatantly non-apologetic for her poor, redneck upbringing; her unfathomable violent, ex-husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and LaVona (Allison Janney, devastatingly good as Tonya's monstrous, abusive mother LaVona). It's Janney's best performance to date and steals scenes even while competing with an ear-nibbling budgie perched on her left shoulder.
There is good use of music; I chuckled as LaVona takes three-year old Tonya onto the ice for the first time - to the strains of the song, Devil Woman. Slowly but surely we are taken into Tonya's violent reality: abusive mother, followed by abusive husband. She gives as good as she gets, returning the abuse without blinking an eye.
Paul Walter Houser is a hoot as Tonya's super-dumb bodyguard and much of the joys of our experience is in the discovery of what happens next. Caitlin Carver as Nancy Kerrigan, appears only briefly, offering a glimpse of the graceful skating star who is the object of Tonya's envy. This is Tonya's story and while we may not always like her, we are rooting for her at every turn. It's an extraordinary story about love, hate and the public. It's involving, shocking and will knock you off your perch.
Watch for the skating sequences with the real Tonya Harding during the end credits. You will look at her in a totally different light.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I've been a big fan of Australian born director, Craig Gillespie, ever since his wonderful film, Lars the Real Girl (2007); any director who can make a film dealing with a young man and his blow up sex doll charming, grey, endearing - and real - is clearly really talented. While that was - despite its title - not a real story, I, Tonya is, and Steven Rogers has crafted a screenplay seemingly a perfect fir for Gillespie's talents. A mix of dramatized documentary and hilarious black comedy, I, Tonya is a bitter sweet biopic, with the most and funniest potty mouth dialogue in years.
To their credit, the filmmakers strive for authenticity amidst the comedic possibilities, and humanity amidst the darkness. If you remember the Tonya of figure skating competitions and 'the incident' that destroyed her career, you will find this film a store of revelatory surprises; and if you don't know anything about Harding, it will come as a jaw dropping true story of lives going through private and public hell.
The film is perfectly cast: Margot Robbie is astounding as Harding, her skating given a digital push but still impressive (four months of intensive training did it), and her dramatic performance is simply astonishing, whether facing the 'interview' camera or delivering a scene.
Allison Janney as her mother Lavona brings to the screen everything that Janney is so good at. No, great at. The hard hearted, viciously pushy and probably daft character is one of the great dramatic engines of the film. Sebastian Stan is totally credible as the flaky Jeff Gillooly and Paul Walter Hauser is a mountain of embarrassment as Shawn, Tonya's 'bodyguard' - not to mention self appointed anti-terror expert....
Julianne Nicholson gives skating coach Diane Rawlinson tremendous depth, and Bobby Canavale is hilariously effective as Martin Maddox, the reporter for a B grade publication. Given the importance of what is referred to as 'the incident' in which Nancy Kerrigan is disabled prior to a competition, Caitlin Carver has little screen time - but it's not about her, is it?!
Fun, funny but also engaging deep down, I, Tonya is much better than I expected. Thanks Craig, for another piece of terrific filmmaking.
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I, TONYA (MA15+)
CAST: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janey, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Bojana Novokovic
PRODUCER: Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Steven Rogers, Bryan Unkeless
DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie
SCRIPT: Steven Rogers
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nicolas Karakatsanis
EDITOR: Tatiana S. Riegel
MUSIC: Peter Nashel
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jade Healy
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 25, 2018