In January 1994 an attack on American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan led to a media frenzy that placed female figure skating at the center of the national consciousness, unleashed the term “Gillooly” on the world, and cemented Tonya Harding’s place in infamy. I, Tonya not only goes over the notorious attack, but Harding’s whole life in an attempt to give insight on what led to her downfall.In a film filled with strong performances, Allison Janney stands out as Tonya’s abusive mother, LaVona. Interviews with Harding (Margot Robbie) depict LaVona as an unloving mother. LaVona disputes Harding’s stories while still defending her own actions. Obviously, this is contradictory, but LaVona is defiant instead of dishonest. LaVona is a one-dimensional character who never does anything to endear herself to the audience and yet is somehow the highlight of the movie. It speaks volumes that Janney can still make you laugh without bringing a smile to your face.
Robbie also does a great job as Harding. I, Tonya is told through the words of an unreliable narrator in Harding. Though there are interviews with her mother, ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), and Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) among others, it is through Harding’s eyes that most of the story is seen. Unsurprisingly, Harding paints a sympathetic picture of herself. While Harding does come off as disingenuous there is also a strong note of pride in the story she is telling. Much like her mother, Harding’s attitude and statements can sometime be inconsistent, yet by the end of the movie, Robbie’s performance makes the audience feel for Harding even if they may not be rooting for her.
The greatest strength of I, Tonya is its performances. The movie is well done, but odd editing choices are made. The film is told through interviews done with Harding and those who knew her best. Along with highlighting the strong acting in the film, these segments give a more intimate window into the characters and provide additional background to upcoming scenes. Oddly, the film also has moments in the film where characters break the fourth wall and speak to the audience. These moments are unnecessary since the movie already has ample exposition setting up scenes. There is also a part that introduces characters through text. This is deep into the movie and stands out. Using all of these techniques with seemingly no reason almost comes off as overkill.
I, Tonya has deservedly received much praise regarding the performance from its cast. Allison Janney stands out, but Margot Robbie and Paul Walter Hauser also do great jobs. The movie makes some missteps along the way but nothing that would ruin the enjoyment of a fine film.