Who could’ve predicted that the director of the trashy Mr Woodcock would punch the audience with the electrically-told story of Tonya Harding? Or that Steve Rogers, screenwriter of PS I Love You, would write a screenplay that is so deliberately unromantic? There are many surprises in I, Tonya, but perhaps the level of undiscovered talent is the most shocking of all.
Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) is an up-and-coming but brilliant figure-skater, raised in a working-class environment by her abusive (and hilarious) mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney). Our protagonist, despite her superior skills, is unable to progress up the ranks because of her background – it doesn’t suit the comfortable image of Nuclear Family America. But Tonya doesn’t let that stand in her way.
Straight away, we are thrown into an exciting and innovative indie experience. Faux-documentary interviews (based on real interviews) set up key characters, continuing to pop up through the story. Charging forward, we witness Tonya grow up with her mother – the author of eclectic insults such as “lick my ass, Diane!” – as she practises skating, eventually becoming a professional. This is far from a straight, or even truthful, biopic, but it’s fast and fun and stylish, with musical editing and a rockin’ soundtrack featuring Fleetwood Mac and Dire Straits. It feels like driving back in time to the energetic films made by Scorsese and, more recently, David O Russell.
As well as Tatiana S Riegel’s pulse-chasing editing, Nicolas Karakatsanis’s beautifully choreographed cinematography is a dance to the eyes. His flying camera angles tracking Tonya’s figure-skating, spinning and whirling, are visuals to be watched and marvelled at – much like the earliest days of cinema.
It’s hard to believe this is Margot Robbie’s first leading role – considering the amount of charisma she brings to her characters – but here, she shines with grit. She has a tough shell, unfazed, even encouraged, by physical violence – but breaks under harmful words. Janney nearly steals the show as Tonya’s mother, whose harsh and painful personality alienates everyone around her. Never has a walking explosion been so hilariously portrayed.
I, Tonya is a quick and funny redemption for Gillespie and Rogers, who weren’t on anybody’s radar until now. Now, their names are blipping like crazy. Unlike Tonya Harding, they have secured a bright and innovative future for themselves.
I, Tonya is released nationwide on 20th February 2017.
Watch the trailer for I, Tonya here: