Oscar nominees Margot Robbie and Allison Janney light up this irreverent Tonya Harding biopic
American figure skater Tonya Harding, famous for her triple axel jump and infamous for her association with an attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan, suffered violent abuse from a young age which continued into her marriage to first husband Jeff Gillooly. The majority of this biopic, directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers, drums up a huge amount of sympathy for Harding by delving into her personal life and exploring the challenges she faced as an impoverished woman trying to make it in a sport that didn't welcome her.
Told from the contradictory perspectives of Harding (played by Margot Robbie), her mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) and Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), the filmmakers' offer a blackly funny, meta take on a true story. Although the tongue-in-cheek tone occasionally undermines the horror of its protagonist's abusive relationships, it works especially well when it comes to Janney revelling in her character's viciousness, as she chats crap about her daughter with a parrot on her shoulder.
Robbie plays Harding from her teenage years through to her forties, moving between her naïveté as a young woman to her frustration as a competitor in the big leagues with poise. Her physical work on the ice is mightily impressive as she dashes through routines accompanied by ZZ Top, and the combination of Nicolas Karakatsanis's nifty camerawork and Robbie's committed, now Oscar-nominated, performance superbly evokes Harding's euphoria, while the film also exposes the judges' distaste at her methods. The blaring music is perfectly utilised in these scenes but there's a heavy reliance on it throughout that does I, Tonya a disservice in the dramatic stakes.
Nevertheless it's affecting to watch Robbie demonstrate her character's raw emotion in the quieter moments; she narrates Harding's story with candid humour in a film that mimics the bravura approach of Scorsese's Goodfellas and its ideas about the American Dream – though doesn't pull it off with the same stylistic grace.
General release from Fri 23 Feb.