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Starring: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan
Director: Craig Gillespie
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
RUNTIME: 120 Mins
I, Tonya takes on truth, sport and relationships in a no-holds-barred dark comedy turned tragedy. This is diesel-fuelled figure skating, more like a knockout boxing match than Swan Lake in technical artistry.
This biopic, centred around the life of the prolific competitive US figure skater Tonya Harding, deals with her rise to the top of the sport’s ranking.
Watching Tonya skate at the time was a breath of fresh air in a staling championship, the first US woman to land a triple axel. She was extremely talented, yet hindered on all sides by an abusive mother, abusive husband and a biased system.
Harding’s future in the sport was thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervened in her career, accused of conspiring to assault her greatest competitor, Nancy Kerrigan.
Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding, and there’s good reason for her Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for this role. She is phenomenal and captivating, down to the slack-jawed, slurred inflection in Harding’s speech and her eager-to-please wink to the camera.
Her Tonya is rock ’n’ roll on ice, blasting full volume, uncensored and just insanely talented. Robbie’s face is so expressive that often the distance between desperate rage and euphoria is no greater than the edge of a blade.
Alison Janney, who plays Tonya’s mother, LaVonda, has all the warmth of a prickly cactus, daring anyone to come close for fear of a pointed barb to the face. She’s less a mother and more a savage drill sergeant.
Janney earns her own Best Supporting Actress win through subtlety and timing, her pursed lips a constant disapproval of her daughter’s life during the highs as well as the lows.
Everyone in this film is kind of an idiot, but no-one takes the cake more so than Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s ex-husband, played by Sebastian Stan, and his out-of-touch sociopathic best friend, Shawn, played by Paul Walter Hauser. Jeff does a stellar job teaching you how to hate him, a free course in what not to do as a man, husband, or conspirator.
There’s an electrifying vibe of 1990s paranoia that hangs about the whole film. Everyone is frantic and frazzled, like they’re connected to a faulty battery pack that might fry them all at a moment’s notice.
The script is beautifully composed, like a choreographed battle between a pathological world and a perfectly sculpted one, with a once-in-a-lifetime talent trapped in between. All Tonya wants is to skate and be loved, but it seems no-one is willing to give her a chance at either.
If you’ve never watched figure skating, then I, Tonya is a flash-bang introduction. In this sport, the competitors are masters of physics, bending the ice to their will all the while balancing on razor-thin edges.
The routines are beautiful, nerve-wracking and you’re half out of your seat punching the air by the moment they land.
It’s also just really darkly funny. The faux documentary snippets are brimming with ironic self-reflection and vastly differing accounts of the same story. They all insist they know what happened and most of the time, they’re talking nonsense.
You’ll have to make up your own mind about whether or not Tonya Harding had anything to do with the assault on Nancy Kerrigan. As Tonya herself notes, everyone has their own truth.
Now showing in: Seef II, Dana Cinemas, Wadi Al Sail, Mukta A2, Al Jazeera
Anna’s verdict: 4/5