March 12, 2018
Box Office $29.51 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity.
Stars Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Paul Walter Hauser.
The darkly funny I, Tonya isn’t so much a docu-drama about a moment of historical infamy as it is an examination of how unfortunate circumstances could build upon each other to fuel a situation that spirals out of control.
The subject, of course, is Tonya Harding, and her trainwreck of an upbringing in Oregon that, despite all odds, didn’t deter her in the slightest from becoming a world-class figure skater. And how the elements that inspired her to fight for success also coalesced into the notorious assault on her figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan and eventually pushed Harding out of the sport (and into boxing, of all things).
The film, aided by a great soundtrack of classic pop rock hits, is structured as a series of interviews with the particulars reflecting on the events in flashback from their own points of view, even breaking the fourth wall to explain details of what may or may not be true. The characters also have no trouble throwing each other under the bus, which could muddle the picture of what actually happened were it not for an additional “interview” with a fictionalized journalist played by Bobby Cannavale to provide focus and context.
Margot Robbie is terrific as Harding, taking on the airs of a fierce competitor who can’t seem to catch a break from the institutional bias of a sport that considers her little more than white trash. Harding doesn’t do much to shake the reputation, either, with her crude antics on and off the ice, particularly when it comes to her abusive relationship with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, rocking the famous ’stache).
The highlight is Allison Janney as Harding’s mother, a tough-as-nails wannabe show-biz mom who is willing to let her daughter hate her to push her toward success.
The depiction of the Kerrigan attack is less a blow-by-blow re-creation than it is a comedy of errors about a group of idiots planning a crime and doing nearly everything wrong to cover their tracks. I suppose it’s the film’s way of suggesting that if these are the people Harding must rely upon to achieve her goals, then whatever sympathy we might feel for her through Robbie’s portrayal aren’t necessarily unwarranted.
These attitudes would all be mitigated of course by any definitive answers as to Harding’s role in planning the assault, which the film is unable to provide. By the end, as footage of the real Harding’s figure skating plays during the credits, the film has become something of a whacky tribute to her.
The Blu-ray offers 17-minutes of deleted scenes, and in one, Robbie’s Tonya even suggests that Kerrigan planned the whole thing to make Harding look bad (which the film’s Kerrigan character swiftly denies, naturally). The bulk of the deleted scenes are a couple of lengthy takes re-creating a bizarre Diane Sawyer interview with Gillooly’s buddy Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), who may have orchestrated the entire attack.
The Blu-ray also includes five promotional behind-the-scenes featurettes running about 16 minutes, and a good audio commentary from director Craig Gillespie.