I, Tonya, B+
Rated R, 121 minutes
The dark comedic biographical film "I, Tonya" tells the colorful story of talented skater Tonya Harding, whose involvement in the Nancy Kerrigan scandal in 1994 ended her skating career with a lifetime ban from the sport. Superbly acted, funny and dark, it's a bittersweet, touching tale of bad decisions, wasted talent and the fight to survive.
Tonya Harding ("Suicide Squad's" Margot Robbie) rises through the ranks of competitive figure skating only to find disgrace when her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly ("The Martian's" Sebastian Stan) tries to eliminate her rival.
"I, Tonya" is one of the most memorable, lively biographical tales and so sensational because it was all true. Ambitious in tone and nailing many of the moves it attempts, it's directed by "Fright Night's" Craig Gillespie and written by "Kate & Leopold's" Steven Rogers. One of the many triple-axels it nails is the pitch-perfect, spot-on performances by Robbie as Harding and scene-stealer Allison Janney ("Mom") as Harding's rough, abusive mother LaVona.
Unlike most films in this genre which serve to inspire others to greatness, "I, Tonya" finds great joy in doing the exact opposite, though that is part of its appeal. The narrative which unfolds in documentary, interview style, is solid but not perfect. Though far from dull, it doesn't land perfectly when it frequently breaks the fourth wall to speak to the audience; it's unnecessary and a tad distracting when a character stops to wink at the audience - the story is crazy enough it doesn't need it.
Otherwise, "I, Tonya" is wise to play to the darkly comedic elements and some of the bumbling fools who tried to pull it off, as well as some of the colorful characters who surrounded Harding. Robbie's Harding is one of the most fully-realized portraits of a real-life athlete who squandered genuine talent with some foolish decisions; Stan is also solid as the abusive first-husband, and Julianne Nicholson is Harding's long-suffering coach.
Janney's LaVona tears through the screen in the film's most striking turn, and her most memorable moments come early in the film as the competitive mother who lived vicariously through her talented daughter. She smokes like a chimney, cusses up a storm and doesn't hesitate to verbally and physically abuse her daughter when something doesn't go their way. Don't be surprised if Janney, whose better known for her TV work (she has 8 Emmy awards), finds herself with an Oscar too.
"I, Tonya" is peppered with some nice '70s and '80's music, which adds a nice frame of reference and remarkably, Harding comes off as a sympathetic, though somewhat sad sports whose more infamous than famous. It's a richly satisfying, entertaining take on Harding's life, and a must-see film to add to your list.