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Movie Review: 'I, Tonya' (2017)

For a film that’s title suggests it is about Tonya Harding, “I, Tonya” doesn’t really feel like a movie about Tonya Harding. Yes, even as Harding (Margot Robbie) frequently narrates the film and turns to the camera to break the fourth wall, it still feels like she is chasing the spotlight of her own story. That’s because the scene-stealing characters that surround her manage to take the light right off of her. To be fair, if there is one thing Harding's story is filled to the brim with it is colorful characters.

For those unfamiliar with Harding’s backstory, “I, Tonya” does an excellent job of taking you through the key developments. Starting off when she was just a child, director Craig Gillespie takes viewers through the winding road and dark detours that took the history-maker to two Olympic Games. Understandably, Harding’s relationship with her mom and husband plays a central role in that narrative.

The towering presence of Harding’s mother LaVona (Allison Janney) dominates the film’s first half. With Paul Walter Hauser’s outstanding performance as Shawn Eckhart taking over the reins in the second half. With these larger than life characters around, Tonya never really has a chance.

The best thing about “I, Tonya” is its casting. The most distracting thing about “I, Tonya” is also its casting.

Allison Janney, Paul Walter Hauser, and Sebastian Stan are all cast to closely resemble their real-life counterparts. This makes the incongruity of Margot Robbie’s casting stand out, even more. Robbie gives a terrific performance, it just doesn't feel like she is playing Tonya Harding.

[Image by Neon]
Allison Janney gives a searing and spot-on performance as Harding’s tough-as-nails mother. She executes every line with a blistering delivery that sizzles and slices its way to the core of every scene. It is a spectacular turn worthy of every award Janney has received.

One of the performances that seemed to fly below the critical radar during the movie's awards-season run is Paul Walter Hauser’s. He is absolutely brilliant as Shawn Eckhart, making you forget everybody else he’s sharing a scene with.

A frustrating facet of "I, Tonya" is the one it chooses to ignore. The movie fixates on Harding’s personal life while ignoring the world she inhabits or tries too. The rather secretive world of figure skating is yet again given little attention here. In several scenes, Tonya rants about her scores, and in one scene, she asks a judge what she needs to do to increase them. Other than that, there is nothing.

It is a frustrating thing to ignore, especially when you consider that it is this world that used their power to keep Harding from ever competitively skating again. While the figures featured in the movie undoubtedly impacted Tonya Harding's life, the figure skating world played a powerful role in determining her future.

What is most sad is that the approach the movie chooses to take on the material obscures the true-life tragedy it depicts. A person lost their career, reputation, and future to appease a popular culture that had tried and convicted her of a crime she was never charged with, or found guilty of in a court of law. That is not innocent until proven guilty. The power that being tried in the court of public opinion has had on Tonya Harding, is no laughing matter.

“I, Tonya” is a lot like the movie “Fargo.” Both are dark comedies with a crime as its backdrop. If you think about it, the films have a lot in common, aside from their overall vein. If you loved one, you are likely to feel the same about the other. A stellar soundtrack and standout performances from Allison Janney and Paul Walter Hauser are not enough to help the movie overcome its missing choreography.

Rating: 6.5/10

[Featured Image by Neon]