At last, a film worthy of the talents of Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan!
Robbie and Stan, two marvelous stars with rather patchy filmographies to date, are at their career-best in I, Tonya, a picture that serves up heaps of meat for both actors to chew on. Robbie, in particular, is truly stunning, in one of the year's best and most affecting performances.
The film, directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Steven Rogers, who too have only had intermittent success on the big screen, opens on young Tonya Harding (portrayed as a child by Mckenna Grace) being thrust into the world of figuring skating by LaVona (Allison Janney), her chain-smoking monster of a mother. By her teens (at this point played by Robbie), Tonya is one of the great up-and-coming American figure skaters, helped along the way by coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), who shows Tonya infinitely more warmth and concern than her own mother ever provided.
Tonya eventually falls for Jeff Gillooly (Stan), a man equal parts doting and vicious, and is able to finally move out of LaVona's house by marrying him - alas, this is an act of moving from one abusive relationship to another. There are ups and downs for Tonya, both personally and professionally, culminating in a comeback attempt that inspires Jeff and his buffoonish friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) to bring down Tonya's rival Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). The rest, of course, is history.
I, Tonya is at its most absorbing early on, as Tonya catapults her way toward the top of the figure skating world, despite the barbaric pain (and negligible support) inflicted upon her by LaVona and Jeff. Robbie is downright exhilarating from start to finish, painting Tonya as a gifted, sad and wholly sympathetic figure. She's matched by Stan, often explosive as the volatile husband, and Nicholson, warm and wonderful, per usual, as the altruistic coach.
Janney, no surprise, is memorable too, but I don't think LaVona is quite as fleshed out on the page as Tonya and Jeff. It's a vivid portrayal of loathsome, garish woman, but Janney never quite gets that 'Oscar scene' you'd hope for and LaVona all but disappears from the picture in the second half.
While there is so much to love about I, Tonya, the proceedings are a tad less compelling once "the incident" comes to fruition. At this point, with the rock soundtrack blasting and film editing growing more snazzy with each frame, Gillespie and Rogers seem hellbent on kicking the film into Scorsese mode, and I think this only detracts from the brilliant central performances. Also, there's a little too much of the grotesque Shawn to stomach
My few quibbles aside, I, Tonya remains an absolute must-see for Robbie's stirring performance alone, a turn that, no doubt, is en route to an Oscar nomination. If only Stan could make the cut too!