Robbie's performance lands in dark comedy Harding biopic
It's easy to forget some of the more bizarre details of the Tonya Harding saga as depicted in “I, Tonya,” the movie adaptation of events too weird and wild to seem real, even today.
It's even more bizarre to see these events, which cover the rise and fall of a figure skater who never really tried to be America's sweetheart, through the prism of modern life. One can't help but wonder if, in the present day, Tonya would have seen her star rise even further.
At the very least, she'd have a ton of followers on Instagram.
“I, Tonya” opens with its own fun, cheeky “based on a true story” card, which reads, “Based on irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly.”
In mockumentary style, modern day Tonya (played with a delicious amount of IDGAF by Margot Robbie) sits in a kitchen, smoking a cigarette and recollecting America's reaction to her rise as an unapologetic redneck.
We flash back to her childhood with an overbearing, chain-smoking and anything-but-caring mom, LaVona (Allison Janney, who is a pure delight in limited screentime). Scenes of a young Tonya sure set the context.
Then there's the small-town romance that plays out between Tonya and her eventual husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, with the signature bad moustache). Jeff gives Tonya the attention her mother denies, but a cycle of physical abuse begins almost immediately.
The stage that “I, Tonya” sets for the more familiar and salacious aspects of the Tonya Harding story adds layers when the bumbling plot that rocked the Olympic skating world unfolds.
At its best, “I, Tonya” is a darkly comic look at Harding's life that comes with ample empathy for its subject. The class distinctions that Harding faced in the princess world of U.S. figure skating give her a defiant sense of “me against the world.”
And Robbie dives into the role like she's fearlessly attempting a triple axel. It's a rangy role that could have fallen into parody, but Robbie seems to hold a genuine affinity for Harding. This movie would not be what it is without that. And Janney's performance alone is worth the price of admission.
Director Craig Gillespie is generally successful in keeping things moving with a sprinkling of “modern” interviews for context. The vibe calls to mind Gus Van Sant's underrated “To Die For,” only with real events.
“I, Tonya” is occasionally as flawed as its subject matter, but that working-class fight it celebrates comes through. It's Harding who has the last laugh here.