Magazine article Variety

I, Tonya

Magazine article Variety

I, Tonya

Article excerpt

I, Tonya

Director: Craig Gillespie

Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser

"I Tonya," a riff on the Tonya Harding saga starring Margot Robbie as the infamous figure skater the whole world decided it loved to hate, is a fresh, chancy and wickedly enjoyable movie. It's framed as a fake documentary (it opens with the characters being interviewed 20 years later), and has a tone of poker-faced goofball Americana that suggests a biopic made by the Coen brothers. The movie revels in the sheer woeful ghastly comic horror of what went on during the lead-up to the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway - the mashed knee of Nancy Kerrigan, the whole scheme to undermine her that was even more cracked.

For a while, you may make the mistake of thinking that "I, Tonya" is a joke: a blithe spoof of Tabloid Nation. It is that, yet it's also built around something piercingly sharp and sincere: Robbie's canny, live-wire, deeply sympathetic performance. She plays Tonya as a trash princess who has nothing to cling to but her passion to skate, and has been so abused by life that it's her karma to abuse back.

That the film has chosen a person of such cheesy notoriety as its heroine may sound like the height of dramatic irony. But Tonya Harding was, and is, a figure of rather innocent dreams who became an outcast, and her story - her real story - has more layers than you think. Ever since the '70s, American movies have been full of scoundrels, hoodlums, and sociopaths who do all kinds of outrageous and indefensible things, but just about all of them are men, and even their worst behavior gets held up to the light as a mirror of our own darkness. It's about time we had a world-class feminine lowlife to root for, and this, at long last, is that movie.

The pic's a serious blast, with a plot that zigs and zags, but only because it sticks, within reason, to the facts. And a cast of characters who are so eccentrically scuzzy that maybe no one could have dreamed them up. When Tonya is 3 years old, she's taken to a skating class in her hometown of Portland, Ore., by her hard-bitten waitress of a mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), who is really a monster. She pushes the little girl out onto the ice, where Tonya is happy enough, but this mother won't stop pushing, and the terror of it is that every thought she has is a punitive whiplash of negative energy.

Janney, with cropped hair and big glasses, her face a scowl of displeasure as she blows out smoke from thin brown cigarettes, keeps spewing rapid-fire lines of toxic obscenity and ire. Janney enters the soul of the kind of a parent who's a drive-by destroyer, molding her child, almost by design, into someone who will never believe in herself.

LaVona, a mentally warped stage mother, shapes Tonya in one defining way. Figure skating, as a kind of athletic finishing school for girls, is designed to be a princess contest - it's not just about skating, it's about projecting an image that goes back to the "good girl" tropes of the '40s and '50s. LaVona has a pathology about not fitting in. She doesn't want to pay for upscale frilly costumes, but really, she's too much of a poison pill to play by the rules that others set; she'd rather set herself, and her daughter, apart. It's a projection of her misanthropy, but the result is that Tonya, an only child who likes trucks and chopping wood, grows up to be a heavy-metal figure skater from white-trash hell.

When Robbie takes over the role, she looks a little sleeker than the real Tonya Harding, who has a scrunchy neurotic grin, but she nails Tonya's skittery insecurity, and the freedom she feels on the ice. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.