Movie Review: 'I, Tonya' (2017)

For a film whose title suggests it is about Tonya Harding, “I, Tonya” doesn’t feel like a movie about Tonya Harding. Even as Tonya (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 story. That is because the scene-stealing characters surrounding her manage to take the light off her. To be fair, if there is one thing, Harding’s story is filled to the brim with its colorful characters.

For those unfamiliar with Tonya 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. Paul Walter Hauser’s outstanding performance as Shawn Eckhart takes 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 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 does not 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 to. The rather secretive world of figure skating is yet again given little attention here. In several scenes, Tonya rants about her scores; in one location, she asks a judge what she needs to do to increase them. Other than that, there is nothing.

It is frustrating to ignore, especially when you consider that this world used its 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 sad is that the movie's approach to 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 being tried in the court of public opinion has had on Tonya Harding is no laughing matter.

“I, Tonya” resembles the movie “Fargo.” Both are dark comedies involving crime as their backdrop. If you think about it, the films have much in common besides their overall vein. If you loved one, you will likely 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]