I, Tonya (United States, 2017)

December 07, 2017
A movie review by James Berardinelli
I, Tonya Poster

At first glance, I, Tonya might seem to be a darkly comedic satire of tabloid journalism excesses as seen through the prism of one of the 1990s sleaziest headline-grabbing stories. However, the film, as directed by Lars and the Real Girl’s Craig Gillespie from a screenplay credited to Steven Rogers, works on a different level, illustrating the tragedy underlying a farrago of criminal incompetence. Margot Robbie’s dynamic performance plays into both aspects of the movie – she delivers one-liners with vigor while allowing us to see a character forged in the fires of brutality lit by a self-absorbed mother (Allison Janney) and an abusive husband (Sebastian Stan).

What we remember about the early 1994 incident is straightforward: a group of thugs associated with skater Tonya Harding (Robbie) attacked Harding’s chief competitor, Nancy Kerrigan (Catlin Carver), with the goal of breaking her leg. The assault failed in its ultimate goal (Kerrigan’s leg was merely bruised), and Harding’s potential involvement became tabloid fodder. Any short-term gains, such as Harding’s capturing the U.S. title, were soon wiped away and her disappointing 8th place Olympic finish capped a tumultuous career. But in I, Tonya, we get (as Paul Harvey was fond of saying) the rest of the story.