‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

A Black Tragicomedy that needs to be seen to be believed.

This story is hard to believe. Having been too young to remember the actual ‘incident’ taking place I had only ever known about Tonya Harding vaguely as an Olympic scandal. The movie recounts the events leading up to and after the incident in which people linked to Tonya assisted her figure skating competition. These first person accounts told directly to camera are in many ways self serving which hilariously contrast with the ‘truthful’ images we are seeing. I lost count of how many times I threw my hands in the air in amazed exasperation of ‘are you kidding me?’ while watching the bad choices and sheer stupidity of the tragic characters that fill this unbelievable story: from Tonya herself, to her worst mother in the history of film, to her abusive boyfriend and his monumentality stupid friend. It is such an entertaining manic ride, building with a hysteria of crescendoing events that lead it the ultimate tragic end. I laughed many times and also shed a tear for Tonya. Despite the stupid things she did she was a victim of her terrible circumstances. And perhaps because of its strength in retelling this incredible story in such an entertaining way through self serving accounts, voice overs, direct address and unreliable narrators it does fall short of really getting into the character of Tonya beyond her reacting to her circumstances. The comedy, which is so strong, does inevitable make the story feel at times glib. At one point Tonya in her narration accuses us the viewers of being complicit in her situation like her abusers and yet in many ways that is exactly what the director serves up an entertaining yarn that serves up Tonya for ridicule and some sympathy. Despite falling short of a great biopic that truly captures the character of Tonya, in terms of pure entertainment the film is one of the funnest movie experiences of 2017. As riveting at the ridiculous unfolding story of the ‘incident’ is, the truly fascinating aspect of the film is Margot Robbie’s central manic performance and Alison Janney’s soon to be Oscar winning performance as the worst mother ever to be put on film. In the climatic scene where Tonya is about to compete at the Norway Winter Olympics, the physical and emotional contortions her face goes through as she is putting on make up is stunning. Alison Janney easily has the best lines in the script and as the mother gives context to the horror of Tonya’s upbringing creating a singularly horrifying human being at once hilarious, terrifying and heartbreaking. The film also cleverly touches on what America represents. To many America is all about winning, the land of the beauty pageants and sports stars. But as this film shows it’s not just winning that counts, it’s also presentation. With that great line America needs someone to hate just as much as they need someone to love. Misses the mark on a deeper understanding of Tonya but as pure rollicking entertainment you will surely have a blast on this wild weird rollercoaster of a movie. 8/10