Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.
In what is, by now, likely the most quoted or familiar part of I, Tonya, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) chases her then-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) through the close quarters of their house with a shotgun. She fires it, Jeff narrowly escaping, and clips the edge of a cabinet, wood shattering to the floor. She looks at the camera, hard-nosed yet earnest, reporting “I never did this.”Cliche, perhaps, to reference it all over again, but this cutaway sequence really gives the film its nutshell. I, Tonya is not really a biopic, although it has elements. It is not a comedy, although frequently it’s hilarious. It’s not a crime film, although there is certainly criminality to spare. The film is a representation of the murkiness of truth, how we know it and hear it, and the desperation of what people will do to stick to their lies. Comparatively, the film is the godchild of two of the best films, widely considered, of the 90s. It shares DNA with the Coen brothers’ Fargo (1996) which features frenzied characters entangled in small-town crime. It also takes notes from Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas as we realize that we are taking the word of hard criminals, and the protagonist is in contact with the audience at any time. Director Craig Gillespie cites from these films with care, although some might find the similarities too exacting. Gillespie’s lens sees so much comedy from the outside looking in, yet the scenes feel lived in. His direction of his actors is also aces. Robbie is silly and sympathetic in her best performance to date, Stan surprises in his role laced with ticks and quirks, and Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s monstrous chain-smoking mother, nearly steals the show with her acidic humor. Coarse and frank with its humor, as it is intended to be, I, Tonya cannot be approved by Dove. But it will certainly go down as one of the year’s wackiest and funniest films.