Movie Review: ‘I, Tonya’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There’s a popular game to play with movie-stars where you determine if they are overrated, underrated, or properly rated. In the case of Margot Robbie, I was always unsure what to respond. Had we really seen all this woman could do in the movies? Sure, she had the good looks and charisma that helps make someone a movie-star but I always felt she hadn’t really sunk her teeth into a role that could showcase what talent she really had up her sleeve. Robbie’s certainly been fun to watch in movies like “Focus”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and even the dreaded “Suicide Squad” but her performance in “I, Tonya” might be the first time I’ve been stunned and surprised.

Robbie brings the same spark and energy she’s had in previous pictures but this time with an added sense of weight. “I. Tonya’s” most impressive feat is that it doesn’t treat the disgraced finger-skatter like a punching bag. In fact, in its most daring scene, the movie shifts the blame on us, the spectator, for making a mockery of this woman’s life. In the context of the movie, we’re no better than the abusive mother and husband who terrorized Harding for years.

That message is also the key to what Robbie brings to the character. She plays Harding not as a psychotic clown but rather a damaged human being who was brought down by the carelessness of those around her. More specifically, we see her fall unfold due to disfunctional relationships between her and her physically abusive husband, played by Sebastian Shaw, and mentally demeaning mother, played by Allison Janney. Ironically, the movie maintains a kenetic, upbeat energy, that often manages to find humor in the more outlandish elements of the story; namely, the central crime that lies at its center.

For those unfamiliar, Harding was the center of a national scandal involving an assault on her skating competitor Nancy Kerrigan; a crime that was orchestrated by Harding’s husband at the time. Taking cues from the iconic crime movies of Martin Scorsese, such as “Goodfellas” and “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “I,Tonya” depicts Harding’s life through energized camera movements coupled with snappy fourth-wall breaks. It’s also a movie with multiple characters all providing their own unique narration, playing on the idea that not everyone might have the same truth or view an event the same way. There is even an attempt to copy the classic-rock drops that bring many of Scorsese’s movies to life; however, many of these attempts in this film come across as obvious or on the nose, taking the viewer out of the scene rather than enhancing it.

Nevertheless, “I, Tonya” remains a well-crafted and energetic biopic. It’s strength comes from both the talent of its cast and the screenplay’s willingness to frame an iconic tabloid story as an American tragedy. However, most of all, “I, Tonya”, gives Robbie a chance to flex her mussels as an actress, giving her a well rounded performance that proves she just might have more in her toolbox as a performer than we initially realized.