I, Tonya

I, Tonya ★★★½

“Everyone has their own truth, and life just does whatever the fuck it wants.” This is one of the last lines in director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers’s biopic about U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) and her connection to the 1994 attack on her opponent Nancy Kerrigan, and the first part of that quote perfectly summarizes the film’s approach. Using a series of mockumentary-style interviews – based on real interviews conducted by Rogers himself – as a framing device, the film is less interested in telling the story of Tonya Harding than it is in telling Tonya Harding’s story from multiple perspectives, and most importantly her own. This unapologetic expression of subjectivity as more artistically interesting than some non-existent truth has become a fashionable and appealing trend in modern filmmaking – just look at Ken Loach’s similarly titled I, Daniel Blake, another recent, albeit fictional and much more serious, exploration of working-class frustration – and here it is both playfully executed and fascinating. In adopting this individualized approach, I, Tonya can be seen as part of the growing genre of unconventional biopics which, much like Pablo Larrain’s 2017 biographical drama Jackie, are concerned with dismantling rather than upholding one’s public image. Except, perhaps, that it also intends to be enjoyable and funny, while still reaching for and often achieving surprising emotional resonance.

I, Tonya is a painfully bitter but sympathetic redemption story that prioritizes pathos over sensationalism and compels us not to necessarily believe a certain – or even Harding’s – truth, but to at least remember her for the history-making achievements that have been forgotten.

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