REVIEW: Robbie, Janney Are Sensational In ‘I Tonya’

A story that many in the United States and the world for that matter are familiar with gets another look in “I, Tonya.”

As the title teases, the movie follows the story of two-time Olympian Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), whose career rose with a 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championship and ended with a controversy revolving around an attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan.

The picture details her early life of training under her strict and controlling mother LaVona (Allison Janney) to her time as a professional skater where she had a relationship, marriage and breakup with her husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan). Through both periods of her life, the film showcases Harding’s difficulties because of poverty and the people around her.

Through all the humor, drama and everything else featured in “I, Tonya,” its biggest strength is its ability to make audiences root for Harding, even with knowing the full history. From start to finish, as a viewer, one hopes against hope that Tonya will overcome the odds she’s facing, even though we know that the situation will go off the rails.

In good biopic fashion, the movie does this by humanizing Tonya, displaying her growing up and becoming a professional through physical, emotional and mental abuse. The film tells the story in a way that makes you ask what if Harding would have had different people around her.

Still, by way of its script and its framing device of showcasing the characters in mocumentary interviews, the movie earns its comedy genre tag. The thing about the Kerrigan incident is how bizarre and zany it was considering the men who orchestrated it, and the movie captures how wild things got, and the subsequent media circus it started around Tonya.

Since its initial limited release, the the movie has picked up a great deal of buzz for Robbie’s performance, and for good reason. Robbie is phenomenal as the complicated Tonya, capturing the numerous layers to her character and clearly showing the effect years of abuse had on the real life person. Because of Robbie’s performance, Tonya becomes a very honest character.

Nearly stealing the show, though, is Janney as Tonya’s harsh, demanding mother. The character LaVona has a face of stone, with a demeanor that says ‘nothing is ever good enough’ and Janney really pulls off this icy personality. Janney’s portrayal of the character’s demanding nature and her inability to empathize with her daughter further allows an audience to see Tonya’s plight.

Credit also has to go toward Sebastian Stan for his impressive supporting work as Tonya’s ex-husband Jeff.

Despite the praise, though, there’s no doubt that “I, Tonya” did suffer from falling into the typical biopic 0. The film maybe could have gained more strength if it had shown more of the aftermath of what Tonya went through, such as giving more detail on her boxing career.

Even so, “I, Tonya” is a solid piece of work and it’s worth checking out. 4.5 out of 5.

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Author: Matthew Liedke

My name is Matthew Liedke. I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, but I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I now write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead where I studied journalism and film. Outside of film, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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