Director: Craig Gillespie
Nominated for: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress; Best Editing
I, Tonya has a bit of a weird set-up – it’s kind of like a documentary while being a dramatisation of real events. As such it’s not filmed in the widescreen that we’ve become accustomed to as cinema goers. It also breaks the fourth wall with the characters speaking directly to the camera and thus the audience. As such it took a little bit of getting used to but then became normal.
Allison Janney is detestable as Tonya Hardy’s mother. She is the epitome of a ‘pageant mom’ – forever pushing their child into something that they probably don’t want to do. She’s acerbic, with a foul mouth and little to no compassion for anyone, especially not for Tonya. But then that’s exactly what makes her performance so powerful. Honestly there is nothing at all likeable about her – even when she deigns to show some emotion towards Tonya once things all go wrong.
I was pretty young when the whole Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan kerfuffle took place so I don’t really have any memory of it … this wasn’t helped by the fact that Winter Olympics isn’t really promoted all that well (emphasised by the recent Winter Olympics that I missed almost the entirety of because they weren’t advertised on the TV to any great extent.) It’s a remarkable story and one that seems laughable if I didn’t know that it was based on real events. Paul Walter Hauser, as the bumbling sidekick Shawn, is just delusional and not in one of those nice harmless sort of ways. Nope he is somewhat psychotic without realising he is and therefore actually the most dangerous character involved in the whole saga.
There’s a warning at the start of the film – you know when you get the ‘This film has been certified’ screen as the very beginning – that mentioned scenes of domestic abuse. They weren’t lying – Tonya and Jeff’s relationship was an abusive one and Gillespie didn’t shy away from showing that. The violence is so casual – one moment they’re talking and the next he’s smashing her head into the wall and she’s retaliating by kicking him in the balls. While I do not in any way condone domestic abuse of any kind I think that because it was a film the violence became more normalised within the context and at least Tonya was giving as good as she got and not just allowing herself to be beaten.
Sebastian Stan is brilliant as Jeff – even if he is a fairly weak-willed character. He has no faith in himself and the fact that Tonya is successful is something he can’t quite wrap his head around leading to the deterioration of his behaviour. Margot Robbie is outstanding as Tonya Harding. Sure there were some iffy scenes where she was meant to be playing a 15-year-old but her performance means that these become easy to overlook. Honestly, there is something about her as an actress that really appeals to me. I will say though there were a couple of scenes where she did revert back to being Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad (David Ayer, 2016) but then I adore Harley so I didn’t mind that so much.
It’s a massively dysfunctional film. I found the sentence that Tonya received was far more extreme than any of the other participants in the whole saga and so unfair. They took away what made her … well, her. I guess you could argue that she was penalised for being a celebrity and punished much more harshly than the others. It’s a heartbreaking scene watching her beg the judge to go to jail rather than not be allowed to skate every again.