I’ll have to give it to the filmmaking team behind the biopic I, Tonya. They managed to drum up a high level of sympathy for disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding the likes of which I could not have anticipated. Harding’s struggles with a domineering monster of a mother, an absentee father and an abusive husband, not to mention her attempts to escape the rural background where she was born and raised, are very well depicted in director Craig Gillespie’s film. All of the aforementioned obstacles would have been enough to keep many in similar situations from achieving half of what Harding achieved. And reach the heights she did, only to fall just as quickly from her perch due to the infamous incident involving the incapacitation of her chief competitor, Nancy Kerrigan.
The film is structured in a mockumentary sort of fashion where those who were largely involved—Harding, her husband and her mother—are interrogated onscreen in between dramatizations of the major events leading up to and preceding the attack on Kerrigan. In the film’s trajectory, Harding is forced into skating as child by her mother, abandoned by her father as a child, quits school to perfect the sport and, along the way, falls in love with the physically abusive Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who acts as a surrogate father figure to her in some strange way. Gillooly’s man-child pal, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) is tasked with serving as Harding’s bodyguard and eventually sows the seeds that would lead to Harding’s undoing.
Australian actress Margot Robbie is nothing less than sensational in her performance as Harding. On the surface, it appears that Robbie would have been a perfect actress to cast as Kerrigan instead of Harding. It doesn’t take long to see that Gillespie’s choice to cast the actress as Harding was a brilliant one and she really inhabits the role in a way that totally surprises.
If Robbie is an asset to the film then it must be said that Allison Janney’s performance as Harding’s monstrous mother manages to, almost but not quite, one-up Robbie’s work in the film. She’s the domineering stage mother personified with more than a dash of white trash thrown in for good measure. Janney rants and raves and snorts and gives it her all. Admittedly, it’s a one-note performance that has obviously been written as one, but Janney plays that one note for all of its worth.
Image: Margot Robbie in “I, Tonya”
This movie is playing playing in Charlotte.
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