The story of the infamous U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding gets a Scorsese-esque treatment in the mostly successful biopic I, Tonya.
Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film features narration in the form of interviews with all of the major players in Harding’s (Margot Robbie) life. There’s her abusive mother (Allison Janney), abusive husband (Sebastian Stan) who claims she was the abusive one, among others.
At its worst, the film can feel like a watered-down copy of Martin Scorsese. The wall-to-wall music becomes grating; the movie at times feels like it is a music video. On top of that, the soundtrack is populated almost entirely with 70s rock, an odd choice for a film set almost entirely from 1986-1994.
But I, Tonya does a lot of things right. Allison Janney does excellent work as Harding’s mother. At the least, she deserves an Oscar nomination (she probably deserves the Oscar itself). Robbie also does well in the lead, showing us Harding’s flaws and her humanity simultaneously.
I, Tonya also shows viewers the cyclical nature of abuse and the lifelong effects it can have on children who endure it. Steven Rogers’ script subtly lets viewers see how Harding’s childhood shaped her adulthood. Throughout the movie, she’s always saying things that went wrong were not her fault. That’s a character flaw, but if someone spends her childhood being endlessly blamed for things that weren’t her fault, it’s easy to see why that would create an overly defensive adult who gravitates towards abusive relationships.
There is also an interesting theme in the film about how Americans, above all else, want someone to hate. It’s a topical, relevant point in an era where both liberals and conservatives seem to live in a world of all outrage, all the time.