This film has all the promise of something amazing that is worthy of all its nominations for the 2018 awards season. But aside from the stellar performance from Allison Janney, I, Tonya misses the mark and gets lost in itself leaving you wondering where it all went wrong.
Starring the ever talented Australian Margot Robbie as the troubled world famous American Figure Skater Tonya Harding. The film journey’s through Harding’s upbringing and rise to stardom before her world comes crashing down when her abusive husband intervenes and hires a hit man to eliminate Harding’s friend and competition.
I, Tonya is set up like a documentary where each of the characters sits down in front of a camera and answers questions. The film then breaks up the chapters by showing a dramatisation of the information just talked about. All this is based on interviews with Tonya Harding and husband Jeff Gillooly, which at the start of the film notes it is “based on irony-free, totally contradictory” interviews.
It is this particular method of story telling that is actually I, Tonya’s shortfall. The film goes in and out of the story and interviews and every now and then Tonya looks into the camera and makes a comment, usually for comedic effect. Breaking the forth wall can work in a great deal of cases with the likes of TV’s House of Cards or early Sex and the City. But with these shows the narrative is with the main character. I, Tonya already had a narrative by way of interviewing the characters to break up the chapters.
But it isn’t just Robbie that breaks the fourth wall, the actor who plays Harding’s husband, Stan Sebastian, does this as well. But what makes this particular case worse is he doesn’t do it until the very end of the film, which begs the question why it was done at all.
A further example where the actor looks into the camera to deliver a line is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. However, while this particular delivery is sporadic it’s done for comedic effect and works well. I, Tonya doesn’t hold true to being a comedy and as such tries to clutch at a style that seems to be an after thought in its production.
The confusion of the style I, Tonya is going for tends to separates any connection to the film. While the character of Harding is almost comedic in itself, the film plays more to the dramatic side of things; her abusive mother, her abusive husband, her questionable background and the obvious bullying from the competitive figure skating community.
There are some redeeming features of the film such as the soundtrack filled with 90s hits. It works so well with the time period of the film, but it also adapts itself to the emotion and events of the scene.
The Music Supervisor of I, Tonya is Susan Jacobs who isn’t a name you would know of however you will most likely know of her work. With the likes of TV shows like Big Little Lies and Wormwood and on the big screen Jacob’s proves she is the master of a killer soundtrack. Split, Joy, The Visit, Wild, Foxcatcher, American Hustle and the list goes on.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Jacobs explains how difficult it was to get artists on board because Harding and her story are still to this day something people don’t want to associate with. Needless to say, Jacob’s manages to curate an exquisite soundtrack worthy of any Spotify playlist.
Another redeeming feature is that of the ever-talented Allison Janney (The Girl on the Train, The Way Way Back, The DUFF) who plays Harding’s Mother, LaVona Golden. Everything about Janney’s performance is spot on. Her heartless yet heart filled performance is frighteningly realistic compared to the real life LaVona who is shown in the films end credits.
Margo Robbie leads the way with her portrayal of Tonya Harding. And while for the most part her big hair, big teeth and big redneck personality dominates the screen, her performance isn’t as big and a little washed out. That is until one of her final scenes where she is in the courtroom hearing the final verdict from the events that put her there. Robbie manages to pull all the emotion that hadn’t been seen yet into these final minutes and gave one hell of a performance. It was a moment where you stop and realise how amazing Robbie’s range is as an actress.
Overall this film is a bit lost on itself and doesn’t quite deliver to all its hype. It’s fun and a bit of a switch off film, but don’t expect anything amazing aside from Allison Janney. Where this film fails is in the way the story is told, but it makes up for this confusing meander through different genres and styles to come out in the end giving a heart felt look at the life of one of the most famous names of the 90s.
I,Tonya is in cinemas now.
You can also watch our reaction on the Stardust app.