I, Tonya

I, Tonya ★★★★

Mean-spirited and harsh, I, Tonya is about class and socioeconomic status, as everyone involved in the film has been screaming from the rooftops. It definitely is. But it’s also about how those systems play into other perpetuated deviance and violence. Even still, it’s quite a lot of fun, more fun than it should be.

Told in a fourth-wall-breaking style that you’ll swear works perfectly at times and at others never feels fully leaned into. Due to this perspective shifting the acts of domestic violence, abuse and other criminal acts are often hard to gauge an opinion. Without a doubt the first several--a montage of LaVona (Allison Janney) hitting Tonya--are played for laughs. I would argue they’re not funny laughs but cathartic, ironic laughs. The irony coming into play as you put together the missing pieces--the missing pieces being the contradicting narratives of the people involved. As the film goes on the domestic violence becomes more a part of the story and less a punchline. Still, at first the film will get you to laugh. It’s up to you to decide what that means.

In parallel to its narrative style, the actual shooting of the film is snappy and cool. The fourth wall moments act as punctuate whether they’re in the actual story of the film or in the talking head interviews intercut in between. There’s a call and deliver that’s mockumentary in nature but never feels quite as cooky. Gillespie allows the actual story to have breathing room. To let the irony disappear at points and let the emotion in. It’s brave not to depend too much on the style when it could easily have been what shouldered the film.

The ice skating scenes are magnificently shot--though mostly showing similar shots and routines the actual camera work reflects the movement of the story at each specific competition. Through the camera movement we get to see Tonya’s emotionality--it rises above her showing her confidence or it stays low on her face showing she’s in her head. It’s nice to get those small moments when you can tell a lot of it is cutting around the Margot Robbie stunt-double.

Margot Robbie is sensational and the rest of the cast, Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan specifically, provide biting realism to the irony-laced narrative. Still, Robbie and Stan are much too old for their parts and are constantly fighting an uphill battle against themselves because of it.

The brutality of Goodfellas is certainly there at times. It has an acceptance of its characters--the world they’re from and the people they are--that is important when making a film like this. Robbie is not an impression. She’s both victim and villain--vulnerable, manic and dangerous. If you’re coming simply for the Kerrigan incident don’t bother--wait until American Crime Story decides to pick it up. Until then you have this: a seemingly honest, balls-to-the-wall portrait of lower class girl’s American dream and what it takes took to achieve it… or not.

I don’t do trigger warnings usually but I shall warn for domestic violence. It was a lot--even for me sometimes. Go in cautiously.

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