Oscar Week Film Review: I, Tonya

Up for 3 Oscars, I, Tonya rises above a shonky format thanks to some great performances

“America. They want someone to love, they want someone to hate”

I wasn’t much of a fan of the mockumentary style in which I, Tonya was constructed, using interviews with the people involved with the rise and fall of Tonya Harding’s figure-skating career. And the fourth-wall-breaking felt like a gimmick too far in a film that simply didn’t need it, such is the appalling pull of its subject matter.

Written by Steven Rogers, directed by Craig Gillespie and co-produced by the film’s leading actor Margot Robbie, there’s a gripping story of Harding’s rise against the odds. Against an abusive childhood and then marriage, against the class snobbery that didn’t recognise her athleticism as equal to primped princess beauty, to hear Harding tell it,  against the world itself.

And the use of several unreliable narrators makes this really fascinating, as we’re never quite sure how true anything, how much credence to give to the version(s) of events with which we’re presented here. Robbie gives us all the rough angles of a deeply competitive and constantly self-exculpatory anti-hero, matched by the vicious cruelty of her on-off partner Jeff, a very-much-against-type but effective Sebastian Stan.

The film could also be subtitled Deirdre Barlow’s Revenge as Alison Janney delivers an iconic performance as the walking caricature that is Harding’s mother. LaVona’s inimitable look might be at home on the cobbles of Weatherfield as too would the mordant humour with which her foul attitude permeates the story. And as it winds to a compelling finale with the walls closing in, Robbie excelling here, I, Tonya becomes unexpectedly gripping.

Photograph: Allstar/Clubhouse Pictures

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