Review: I, Tonya

I TONYA was previously reviewed as part of our TIFF 2017 coverage.

PLOT: The life of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie).

REVIEW: Director Craig Gillespie, writer Steven Rogers and star Margot Robbie have done something pretty amazing. They’ve made audiences at TIFF, if not fall in love with then at least sympathize with, Tonya Harding. For those not quite old enough to remember, just before the O.J Simpson media circus happened, the saga of Tonya Harding, a working-class skater out of sorts in the skating world, and her rival Nancy Kerrigan, a princess-like figure, played out on tabloid TV shows every night. The hook was that someone in Harding’s camp had Kerrigan’s knee clubbed, with no one believing Harding, who was already being considered the bad girl in the rivalry, could be innocent.

I, TONYA doesn’t come straight-out and say she’s innocent. As played by Robbie, Harding is far from perfect, with her drive and talent making her a ruthless competitor who, at her best, was complicit in covering up what her shady ex-husband, Jeff Gilooly (Sebastian Stan) and his moronic friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) had done. But, she’s also something of a victim of circumstance, growing up under an abusive mother (Allison Janney) and later marrying an wife-beater, although the mockumentary style leaves open the possibility that Hardin could be stretching the truth, with them calling her a liar every-time she flashes back to an abusive episode.

If it sounds heavy-duty, well, it’s not really. I, TONYA is actually a whole lot of fun with Gillespie turning this into a sprawling slice of pop-culture flashback, fusing the story with wall-to-wall songs from the era, and a constantly moving camera. It’s Scorsese-lite, but done very well.

Through it all, this is never less than a showcase for the entire cast, with Robbie getting the role of a lifetime as the complicated Hardin, embracing the trashy side that has her paint her fingernails blue and blast ZZ Top during her early routines, but also evoking the real snobbery and struggles she faced. As she plays it, there’s something redemptive in her drive. As Gilooly, Stan will totally make you forget about The Winter Soldier, playing a scumbag for the ages (not unlike Eric Roberts in STAR 80) and Hauser steals scenes as his dimwitted friend, while Julianne Nicholson is alternately sweet and hilarious as Hardin’s timid, buttoned-up trainer.

Of everyone, the actress that will walk away with the most heat is Janney, who seems a best supporting actress lock if this gets a fourth quarter release. Part hilarious, part terrifying as Hardin’s mom, she plays a horrifying villain, but you can’t take your eyes off her, with her and Robbie playing off each other magnificently.

All told, I, TONYA verges on being a perfect film, were it not for a few small things that could be corrected before release, such as some bad CGI in the ice-skating sequences. Otherwise, this is one of TIFF’s big breakout hits, and one you’ll be hearing a lot about as the awards season heats up.

Review: I, Tonya



About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.