Friday 23 March 2018

I, Tonya ★★★☆☆

Anybody who knows me (all three of you) know that I bloody love a good biopic. Despite often being inaccurate, they’re both informative and entertaining, and always lead me to follow-up research. That’s the sort of experience you don’t get out of a switch-your-brain-off action romp. But I’m always reluctant to enter one subgenre of the biopic family. Sport films. I hate sport. But some biopics put the sport in the backseat and focus entirely on the people, like 2017’s brilliant Battle of the Sexes which thankfully didn’t focus on the tennis. I, Tonya is a similar experience. This is not a skating film. Hell, The Playlist’s Kevin Jagernauth called it “the Goodfellas of figure skating”.

For those of you who don’t know Tonya’s story, it goes a little something like this. In 1991, talented figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) becomes the first American woman to complete a triple axel during a competition. She’s on top of the world. But in 1994, her world comes crashing down when her abusive ex-husband (Sebastian Stan) conspires to injure Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), a fellow Olympic hopeful, in a poorly conceived attack that forces the young woman to withdraw from the national championship. Tonya's life and legacy instantly become tarnished as she's forever associated with one of the most infamous scandals in sports history. This is Tonya’s story, stylistically told. While not particularly original anymore, the film is told in a mockumentary format with fourth-wall breaking throughout, as Tonya will occasionally tell the audience that a certain event didn’t happen. It’s very 24 Hour Party People.

But being very 24 Hour Party People is not a criticism, as that is one of the finest biopics out there! I, Tonya handles a fascinating tale very well, keeping us on the edge of our seats even as we know exactly where it’s going. And despite frequent (pitch black) humour, the film doesn’t shy away from the dark and upsetting elements of Tonya’s life – being a victim of abuse as both a child and an adult is powerfully portrayed, with Allison Janney on Oscar-winning form as Tonya’s villainous mother. The script is just perfect throughout, giving each of the cast something memorable to do. Special mention should go to Paul Walter Hauser who shines as Tonya’s bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt.

But I, Tonya isn’t the best film of the year, by any stretch. At its core, it is just a biopic, and not a particularly original one at that. Tonya’s story is fascinating. But like Spielberg’s The Post, the film itself can’t really live up to the history behind it. It’s an engrossing and entertaining watch, sure – but something about it doesn’t really elevate it to the dizzying heights of the better biopics in the genre. As the credits roll, you begin to forget the film – and by the following day, it is a distant memory. 
I, Tonya isn’t going to go down in history as one of the finest biopics, or even one of the finest sport films. But it is absolutely worth a watch for Robbie and Janney’s powerful and commanding performances, and an introduction to one of the most bizarre stories in sporting history. 

Sam Love

I, Tonya at CeX

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