“I, Tonya (2018)” Review

It was like being abused all over again. Only this time it was by you. All of you. You’re all my attackers too.

Why did I watch it?

Funny trailer, plus (Oscar winning) Alison Janney.

Did it meet expectations?

I found it rather sad, partly because Harding was so impressive, which made me feel a bit guilty laughing at it because it was also very, very funny.

Harding states that in name recognition she was second only to Bill Clinton, but I knew little of her story (or of ice skating). Despite my usual indifference to watching the skating on the television, I found the skating sequences in this absolutely riveting. Of course the dramatic photography that is possible in a film, and the staged choreography, is particularly involving; but I found myself equally impressed when real footage of Harding was played in at the credits. And the filming of the skating sequences is especially impressive in that there are shots that pan from Margot Robbie’s face to her skates as she performs Olympic level sequences.

The story is framed by to-the-camera interviews, somewhat reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For with an equally ambitious lead (though far less talented, far more ruthless). Harding broke into a sport where she was unwelcome, and suffered an abusive mother (I felt particularly guilty laughing at Janney’s performance, which at the same time is quite chilling). If you’ve heard the jokes at Harding’s expense, you may be surprised how sympathetic this telling is to her.

I didn’t expect to say it, but the cracking soundtrack opens with Cliff’s Devil Woman as we see the 3 year old (soft 4) Tonya make her first moves on the ice. The story, like the true-but-unreliable Molly’s Game spans decades. Robbie plays the role from age 15 up to 40 (at 27 she’s close to the middle of that range) and she is absolutely superb – by turns sardonic, strong-willed, cynical or passionate. Perhaps the most straightforwardly comical role is Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn. Like Janney as LaVona harding, it’s uncanny when you see the video of the real Shawn over the credits. It’s not just a great performance, it’s a spookily accurate imitation too.

You should watch it if…

  • You enjoy black comedy
  • You’re want to see a good biopic

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You’re a skating snob

Next up: Me Before You (2016)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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