Movie Review: “I, Tonya”
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 seems to consistently be 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 (well, that and her incredible talent of figure skating). It was hard to find someone as skilled as Tonya was on the ice, but she was consistently held back because she did not come from a wealthy family. Despite this incredible adversity, her talent took her to the olympics. However, 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.
The Pros & Cons
Margot Robbie (+10pts)
The Supporting Cast (+5pts)
Too Much (-5pts)
Tonya Harding (+6pts)
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, as she absolutely transformed into the character. I understand that the physical transformation was mostly due to the hair and make-up department, but it was the behavioral transformation that was so 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 very complex character and a very dramatic role, yet Margot Robbie knocked it out of the park.
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 flips the switch, and moves 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) do not have personal experience with domestic abuse, but that does not mean that I cannot tell when a character is underdeveloped. If the character worked for you, great, but (to me) his actions just felt random and unjustified by the character’s development (or lack thereof). If a character only works for some people (who have a specific set of life experiences) and does not work for others, then that is a sign that the filmmakers did not develop the character properly.
Pro: The Supporting Cast (+5pts)
Margot Robbie was undeniably the star of this movie, but take nothing away from the supporting cast. The movie was filled with complex characters, played by talented actors, but there definitely were a couple of standouts. Sebastian Stan did a really good job with his performance. Like I said before, the character felt inconsistent, but Sebastian Stan did the best he could in making this character's emotions feel very real. Each scene, individually, was done really well. I just thought the filmmakers did a poor job of connecting this character's story in a natural way. Nonetheless, I thought Sebastian Stan did a really good job with this character.
After Margot Robbie, the movie's most notable performance came from 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 point of view) 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 believe they are acting in their child's best interests), but I thought Allison Janney did a fantastic job of making me understand the character (as much as I could have). The character has a very twisted view of the world as well as what it means to be a parent, but Allison Janney made the character feel very real (as messed up as she was), which helped me connect with the main character.
Con: Too Much (-5pts)
I feel like a broken record whenever it comes to a biopic like this. The filmmakers always try to tell the person’s entire life as if it is an origin story. 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 this) tried to tell the story of parts of this character’s life that had no impact on the story. There were aspects of her story that I did not think were all that interesting and did not need to be told in this movie. All it did was slow the movie down and, to be completely honest, bore me in some areas.
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. Margot Robbie’s performance certainly helped, but Tonya’s attitude and behavior was what got me through those 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. 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).
Con: Impact (-4pts)
This may have been a side effect of trying to cram too much of Tonya’s life into this story, but I did not find the climax of the movie to be very impactful. I did not think the movie focused enough on her skating, and focused too much on her relationship with Jeff and her mother. These relationships were definitely important, and needed to be given their share of focus, but more of a balance would have served the movie well. Through her story, Tonya’s skating talent goes through a bit of a rollercoaster due to her personal life being so complicated. She struggles to find her groove throughout the movie, but the filmmakers do not focus on that struggle very much. This easily could have been fixed by taking out some of the scenes that did not need to be in the story in order to further develop the role that her personal life played in her performance issues. If they had balanced the focus of the movie better, they could have given the climax of this story a lot more impact.
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 had a talented cast behind it. Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney did great in their respective roles, but Margot Robbie very obviously deserves the most recognition for her performance. The movie was all about Tonya Harding, her road to the Olympics, and the controversy that surrounded her Olympic presence. Margot Robbie absolutey became this character, and 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, 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 there, slowed the story down, and distracted the film’s focus from the more important parts of the movie. The plot could have used some refining, but it was an interesting story and the movie is filled with strong performances.