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Movie Review: “I, Tonya”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Theatrical Release: 1/19/2018

Theatrical Release: 1/19/2018

Synopsis

Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) has had a difficult life. Her mother (Allison Janney) was abusive and pushed her far too hard to become a competitive figure skater. Tonya does not come from a wealthy family, unlike most of the girls she has had to compete against, and she has consistently been held back due to her appearance and lack of wealth. The one good thing in her life is the man she loves.

Tonya met Jeff (Sebastian Stan) when she was young, and he seemed to be the only source of light in Tonya’s life. It was hard to find someone as skilled as Tonya was on the ice, but she has faced her share of adversity. Despite this, her talent took her to the Olympics, but her name will forever be plagued by a tragic incident that happened to one of her top competitors. Many blamed Tonya for injuring her competition in an effort to solidify her chances of winning the gold, but the truth is far more complicated than it seems on the surface. There are varying accounts of what happened and who was involved, but there is no doubt that Tonya Harding’s name will go down in history.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Margot Robbie (+10pts)

Jeff (-4pts)

The Supporting Cast (+5pts)

Too Much (-5pts)

Tonya Harding (+6pts)

Impact (-4pts)

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Pro: Margot Robbie (+10pts)

The movie had some problems, but Margot Robbie was fantastic. Was it the best performance I have seen this year? I am honestly not sure, but she definitely deserved Oscar recognition for this role at the very least, as she absolutely transformed into the character. I understand that the physical transformation was mostly due to the hair and make-up department, but the behavioral transformation was just as impressive. I never saw much of Tonya Harding outside this movie, so I do not have a lot to go by regarding the accuracy of the performance, but Margot Robbie depicted the character in a way that really fit this story. Tonya was alone, she had a chip on her shoulder, she was damaged, she was desperate, and she was proud. This was a complex character and a very dramatic role, and Margot Robbie knocked it out of the park.

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Con: Jeff (-4pts)

Jeff was an odd character, in my opinion. Sebastian Stan did a decent enough job, but the character was severely inconsistent. I completely understand that this character was based on a real person, and that every moment involving the character may have actually happened. However, in real life, there are a ton of circumstances and thoughts that contribute to someone’s actions and the movie did not have enough time to flesh them all out for Jeff. Again, everything in this movie could have been based on real events that were adapted into the movie, but I thought that Jeff’s change in behavior was something that definitely needed more focus.

The movie just kind of flipped the switch, and moved on to other things. I get that domestic abuse is something that can seemingly come out of nowhere, and maybe the character worked for you, but he did not work for me. I—luckily—have not had any personal experience with domestic abuse, but it was clear that this character was underdeveloped. I thought the filmmakers did a great job at showing the suddenness of the abuse from Tonya's perspective, as well as the terror she must have felt in those moments, but I think this story could have been a lot more compelling if the filmmakers had fleshed out this character, so that we could better understand what brought the man to do what he did, as well as how his actions impacted him after the fact. I certainly do not think Jeff's portrayal was inaccurate, but I think there was more of a story to tell here, as it seemed like the filmmakers sort of just stayed in the shallow end with Jeff's story.

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Pro: The Supporting Cast (+5pts)

Margot Robbie was the obvious star of this movie, but do not let that take anything away from the supporting cast. The movie was filled with complex characters, played by talented actors, and there were definitely a couple of standouts. Sebastian Stan did a really good job with his performance. Like I said before, the character felt underdeveloped, but Sebastian Stan made this character's emotions feel very raw and realistic.

Then there was Allison Janney's portrayal of Tonya's mother. Tonya's mother was harsh, she was bitter, and she was determined to push her daughter to be the best. I really got the sense that—despite how cruel the character seemed from Tonya's perspective—Tonya's mother truly thought that what she was doing was the best thing for her daughter. We have seen characters like this before—harsh parents who believed they were acting in their child's best interests—but I thought Allison Janney did a fantastic job of making me understand the character. The character had a very twisted view of the world, as well as what it means to be a parent, but Allison Janney made the character feel real and compelling.

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Con: Too Much (-5pts)

I feel like a broken record whenever it comes to biopics. Biopic filmmakers try to tell their subject's entire life, as if biopics are actually origin stories. Would it be such a crime to refine the movie by showing the audience only the interesting part of the person’s life? I get that some backstory is necessary, but the filmmakers of this movie—like the filmmakers of too many movies like it—tried to tell the story of parts of this character’s life that had no impact to the story. There were aspects of her story that I do not think anyone will watch this movie hoping to see, and it made the movie feel too long and too slow. It was as if the filmmakers knew their movie was about Tonya Harding, but did not really know what it was about beyond that, so they just crammed as much of her life into this movie as they could, and to be honest, it made the movie boring in more than a few areas.

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Pro: Tonya Harding (+6pts)

While I thought the filmmakers tried to cram too much of her life into the movie, Tonya Harding was an entertaining personality nonetheless. Margot Robbie’s performance certainly helped, but Tonya’s attitude and behavior was what got me through the movie's more uninteresting scenes. On top of that, Tonya’s alleged crime, and the controversy surrounding it, was interesting to see unfold on screen. I knew what Tonya was accused of before seeing this movie, but I did not know much about it beyond the basics. As interesting as the whole thing was, I found that the uncertainty of the allegations were even more interesting, as it provided the movie with a flavor of mystery, and it made it feel like there was a lot more to a story that I thought I already knew the gist of.

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Con: Impact (-4pts)

I unfortunately did not find the climax of the movie to be very impactful. I did not think the movie focused enough on Tonya's skating, and thought it focused too much on her relationship with Jeff and her mother. These relationships were definitely important, and they needed to be given their share of focus, but I think more of a balance would have served the movie better. Through her story, Tonya’s skating talent went through a bit of a roller-coaster due to her personal life being so complicated. She struggled to find her groove throughout the movie, but the filmmakers did not focus much on that struggle. Given that the climax of the story was all about her skating, focusing more on her struggle as a skater would have gone a long way in making the climax more impactful.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B- (83pts)

I, Tonya was a movie that was absolutey made with Oscar recognition in mind. It was based on an interesting, controversial true story, and it had a talented cast behind it. Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney did great in their respective roles, but Margot Robbiew as the obvious standout, as she was the start of the movie. The movie was all about Tonya Harding, her road to the Olympics, and the controversy that surrounded her Olympic presence. Margot Robbie transformed into this character, and she made Tonya feel like a very damaged and complex woman.

I thought the filmmakers fell into the same trap that too many filmmakers fall into, by trying to tell too much of Tonya’s life. Sure, she is an interesting woman with an interesting story, but there is no way you can fit her entire life into one movie. As a result, there were some sections of this movie that did not need to be in here, which slowed the story down, and distracted the movie's focus from the more important parts of the story. The plot could have used some refining, but it was still an interesting movie that was filled with strong performances.

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