By midlandsmovies, Feb 23 2018 11:31PM
I, Tonya (2018) Dir. Craig Gillespie
The story of real-life figure-skater Tonya Harding and her infamous involvement with a brutal attack on a fellow skater before the 1994 Winter Olympics is the subject matter in this new movie from Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night, The Finest Hours).
Margot Robbie takes on the task of giving some humanity to the vilified Harding and whilst Robbie has been enjoyable in her blockbusting roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street, this film finally showcases her considerable talents as a dramatic actress.
The biography takes a route similar to “Wolf” in so much that we get multiple viewpoints recanting their own versions of events – with many flashbacks not matching with each other – as accusations of abuse from all sides begin to fly. Documentary style “talking head” segments lend realism, but are also at odds with characters themselves talking to the screen at times as they comment on their own reactions within the film.
'Winter Soldier' Sebastian Stan plays Harding's husband Jeff Gillooly, who is accused and accuses others of domestic battery but the standout support is Allison Janney as Harding’s dictatorial mother. From making the young Harding soil herself on the ice in the 1970s to her aggressive behaviour, the redneck relationship between them begins to hurt Harding’s chances. Her “white trash” upbringing is at odds with the wholesome American “family” the championship judges are looking for.
The film recreates the 80s hair, moustaches and double denim fashion from the era complimenting the use of 4:3 ratio home video film stock for the interview segments. There are also impressive recreations of stadium dance sequences to add realism. The film is soundtracked by retro hits which are a little on the nose as tracks like Devil Woman by Cliff Richard and Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits play alongside expected sequences.
The mix of styles mean the multiple viewpoints lead to our characters disagreeing with other people’s version of eventsbut these varied accounts begin to elicit sympathy for Harding’s plight. Unsure who to believe, one person’s loving marriage is another person’s period of spousal abuse, the film eventually introduces “the incident” with a “didn’t happen like this” Harley Quinn baseball attack.
The "incident" sequence begins to play out like Fargo with a husband attempting a nefarious act alongside his wife using a bunch of inept criminals, labelled here as “boobs”. Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn Eckhardt, a bodyguard and friend of Gillooly is one such boob and the real life footage shown during the credits show how accurate his performance of a delusional and clumsy felon is. With a money exchange, shady bar meetings and telephone calls, the Coen Brothers may want to check in with their lawyers as an investigation begins into the attack on Kerrigan.
One thing the film does avoid, and to its advantage, is a “race to the top” narrative. This isn’t RUSH by Ron Howard. It’s not Kerrigan versus Harding and their fight to be the best skater. If anything, it makes an extra special effort to avoid Kerrigan at all.
And with the spotlight firmly on Robbie’s portrayal, she gives depth to a demonised woman where those around her seem far worse than herself and the final act of authorities banning her from doing the one thing she was any good at, and truly loved, is more heartbreaking than any comeuppance.
Whilst also being the first woman to successfully land a triple axel in competition, Harding will sadly now be remembered as a modern villainess yet the film, with Robbie’s tremendous efforts, attempts to give a more nuanced reassessment of one of the most infamous scandals in sport.
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