I think it would be unfair and dishonest for me to say I had no expectations for a film about Tonya Harding and the Nancy Kerrigan incident. Every article, archived news footage and “Weird Al” Yankovic song (Headline News) told me what to think of the former skater.
Craig Gillespie’s film, I, Tonya, did not tell me what to think of the former social pariah and opted to present the facts. It uses a dramatized, mockumentary style to frame events. Taking place in the present day, Harding (Margot Robbie) details her life growing up in Portland, Oregon. At the hands of her sadistic and abusive mother (Allison Janney), she is forced to ice skate, and winds up meeting future husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).
The film then descends into a spiral of abuse, jealousy and class warfare, taking the spirit of competition into one of the greatest crime comedies of the decade. Reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas or Wolf of Wall Street, the film breaks the fourth wall to directly tell the audience what is going on. What’s going on is unflinching and sometimes hard to believe.
That’s what I love about movies like these—they show terrible events amped up to a point of hilarity. Yes, it is tragic that the narrative had to end the way it did. Yes, the events are messed up in any other context. Yes, there is still a moral gray area that needs to be addressed.
I did not care. I just left I, Tonya with more questions about that major incident. I asked myself those questions while laughing at some well-timed jokes and in awe of Robbie’s transformative role. Here was a woman abused by her mother, husband and the media.Stan’s performance as her abusive, self-righteous husband is what Henry Hill from Goodfellas would be like if he were the supporting character.
The real show-stealer is Janney, a brutal, unforgiving behemoth of a mother who finds every chance to bring her daughter down. These performances are presented with steady filmmaking and a touch of respect for its subjects. Gillespie makes the audience come up with their own conclusion at the end. After a two-hour punch to the gut full of 70’s and 80’s pop music and cheap costumes, the grey area of the entire incident just became greyer.
I, Tonya is this generation’s definitive crime comedy, taking a true story and presenting it with unflinching honesty. No fourth wall is safe and no story thread is left untouched.
At the end of the day, whatever happened in 1994 made for one of the best films to come out in 2017. I, Tonya is a wide release that no one should miss.