I, Tonya

I, Tonya ★★★★

a radically courageous and indomitable biopic concerning the life of ice-figure skater Tonya Harding, carrying much of the undaunted scandal that goes along with being worldwide famous.

during the course of our lives, we are guaranteed to share distinctive moments with those close to us. yet interestingly, we will all remember those events completely differently. I, Tonya explores this abnormality of the human perspective, an abnormality which leads us to believe our experience is the absolute and only truth. this film prospects this idea through the infamous figure skater Tonya Harding, a woman who’s sporting career and personal life made global news in the early 90’s. Tonya was perhaps involved in one of the most controversial sporting events in the world, the assault and foray of Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Winter Olympics. even now, when the key events of the attack are so well publicised, the details and motivations surrounding the incident are still very unclear. hence why Gillespie amusingly decides to open the film with the disclaimer that this story is ‘iron-free, wildly contradictory, and totally true’. 

considering the vast array of perspectives on this complex subject matter, one might suspect that such a story would be a challenge to adapt into an onscreen affair. however, Steven Rogers and Graig Gillespie creatively rake to the occasion by using clever framing devices such as the unreliable narrator. they use this in conjunction with a series of authentic interviews to contextualise the overall narrative, but throughout the film they also utilise the device from comical relief and emotional impact. the film also uses deadpool-esque fourth wall breaks to achieve similar effects. the film in fact wields a variety of stylistic techniques, which on paper seems like a risky choice considering the sensitive nature of the material at play. Margot certainly seemed conscious of this, and as producer of the film, she was determined to bring on board of a director who could simultaneously balance the beauty and horror of Tonya’s life. i would say that Robbie made a great choice as Gillespie, for the most part, succeeds in stabilising these dichotomous tones. 

Gillespie decides to start the story early, as the film opens with Tonya as a very young girl, and we see some of the untimely defining moments that would come to shape her character later on. the film then documents her adolescent interactions with her abusive mother and the beginnings of her relationship with the disreputable Jeff Gillooly. the narrative then progresses to focus on the professional highlights of Tonya’s career, her tumultuous private life and eventually the ‘incident’ at the 1994 Olympics which forever changed her life. with such an extensive fro d to cover, there was a danger of loosing focus and underdeveloping certain story elements. despite these potential trappings, I, Tonya manages to give equal weight to its various arcs which only serves to enhance the audience’s connection to this atypical story. 

i must confess, before the film was released i had never heard of Tonya Harding. i think it’s fair to say that this off-the-wall experience was a bit before my time. i also hadn’t heard much buzz in the lead up to its release, which is odd considering the critical and award appraisal the film has received in the U.S. thus, i can confidently say that i was rather surprised about the movie’s intimidating load. it’s a serious blast. it’s bright, it’s dark. factual and funny, hilariously accurate in that matter. the plot zigzag’s, the actors reconcile with the audience. it’s weirdly and wildly compelling, so much so that a rewatch might even bring the rating up to a five. i could go on and on with how exhilarating the film is with many different synonyms, but i want to definitively state, that I, Tonya is a riveting and a strangely sympathetic masterpiece.

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