It's awards season once again in Hollywood, and this year's selection of nominated films offers an eclectic mix of female-led cinema. Biopics at this time of year can feel like a dime a dozen, however in the case of I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers offer something very unique. I, Tonya follows the story of the infamous American ice skater Tonya Harding, and the strange sequence of events that essentially led to the end of her career.
The entire plot of the film is incredibly manic, verging on the point of being utterly absurd. This becomes all the more strange when audience members realise that the majority of the plot is based on fact. I, Tonya follows Tonya Harding's life story, from socially unfortunate child ice skating prodigy to arguably one of the most disliked women in America during the 1990's. This was a direct consequence of the brutal attack on ice skating star and American sweetheart Nancy Kerrigan. Harding just so happened to be Kerrigan's number one rival at the time. The horrific event saw Kerrigan's knee beaten with a baton during a vital practice session prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics. Harding's ex-husband was implicated in the attack, which ultimately led to Tonya's expulsion from the sport.
The film's unique journalistic approach depicts each odd character's unique interpretation of the story. The perspectives of Tonya Harding, her strange mother and her overbearing ex-husband are all covered, allowing each individual the opportunity to share their side of the story. Each varying perspective feels more far-fetched than the next, as the real-life characters provide intricate details of their tremendously murky recollections.
During pre-production, these convoluted plot details became a problem for the filmmakers while researching the movie. This was particularly due to the fact that each individual's story completely contradicted the other. As a result, director Craig Gillespie ingeniously interweaves each of the reenacted interviews into the movie, framing each unusual scene in an incredibly humourous way. The creative choice also works to soften the intense level of brutality displayed during some of the sequences. In a way, the movie uses each character's convoluted recollection as an unreliable narrator, leaving the audience members to decide which side of the story they truly believe.
Margot Robbie stars in the lead role, while simultaneously taking on producing duties. She is delightful to watch, as she brilliantly encapsulates Tonya Harding's crazy rebellious nature. Robbie is growing exponentially as a performer and a noteworthy thespian. Certain elements of her portrayal are incredibly strong, placing her as a viable contender for this year's Oscars. It's an incredible depiction of the real-life character, which sees Robbie play Tonya Harding from the age of 15 all the way to 44 years old. Robbie's portrayal undeniably humanises her real-life counterpart's previously villainous persona, in addition to taking the role to a place that is very entertaining.
Allison Janney is undeniably the standout performance of the film, which is sure to put her as favourite for Best Supporting Actress at this year's Oscars. In the role of Tonya's hilariously sadistic mother LaVona Harding, she creates a fabulously quirky character that at times can feel completely surreal. The end credits, however, confirm how true to life her depiction really is. Janney's abusive tirades towards Tonya are truly poetic. The level of potency displayed during each eloquent insult conveys a truly high level of artistry. It is something that Janney seems to relish, as she creates an incredibly unlikeable character with a highly humorous streak. She really does make the viewing experience worthwhile.
Sebastian Stan also makes his presence felt in the role of Tonya Harding's once upon a time husband Jeff Gillooly. Harding's now ex-husband's odd involvement in Nancy Kerrigan's traumatic injury feels utterly absurd on initial viewing. This is again until the end credits role, displaying a series of real-life interviews that convey the insane reality of the incident. It has to be said that while Sebastian Stan's character is essential to the plot, his performance lacks the essential gravitas. Perhaps this is a result of the script not giving enough substance for his character to devour. In short, however, his performance is underwhelming compared to the standouts of Margot Robbie and Allison Janney.
The editing of the film while manic, is absolutely fabulous. The final cut brilliantly melds together with the tremendous 80's inspired soundtrack, which provides much of the film's levity. After a while, the soundtrack becomes a character of its own, as the foot tapping music works in brilliant juxtaposition against the absurdity of the far-fetched plot. The music is undeniably the most attractive aspect of the movie.
Overall, I, Tonya is a uniquely constructed biopic that recognises the value of levity when dealing with tremendously disturbing material. The film undeniably utilises creatively dark humour in the telling of its plot, which at times can feel incredibly sinister. At points in the movie, audiences are guaranteed to smile, however it has to be said that the subject material is far from funny.
The cinematography is fantastic, from the brilliantly captured ice skating all the way to the creepily constructed interviews. The film is also a fabulous showpiece for the performances of Alison Janney and Margot Robbie. They undeniably make the movie watchable, holding together a plot that would fall through the ice if not for their tremendous prowess. In short, I, Tonya is definitely worth a watch in what is otherwise a bland movie awards season. Catch it in cinemas while you still can.