It is taking me a very long time to conjure up all of my thoughts about this film. There are things I really enjoyed about this movie, and there are some things that I really thought were dumb. This is going to be one of those reviews where I have no idea what the actual grade will be until I’m done writing the actual review.
So we’ll go point by point about all of the stuff in this film.
I think Margot Robbie is pretty fantastic in this movie and played Tonya Harding pretty well. For those who don’t know (I sure as heck didn’t), Tonya Harding was one of the best female ice skaters in the entire world and was attempting a second Olympic run before becoming the face of a massive scandal.
And it was clear to me halfway through the movie that Robbie took playing this character extremely seriously, as if she was Tonya Harding. There were moments where I could tell that she took all the jabs Harding experienced and thrusted them upon herself.
One of the aspects the movie focuses on is the treatment Harding experienced by her psychotic mother LaVona (Allison Janney). Janney does amazing in this role. The movie isn’t very clear on LaVona’s motivation for making Tonya’s life a living hell, but I think they developed it enough for me to draw my own conclusions.
In a general sense, everyone else does really well. The child playing child Tonya was actually good. That fat guy was funny.
The movie touches on a lot of different themes: the apparent phoniness of American idealism, the hurdles one goes through when in poverty, the bloodsucking tactics of the news press, and a lot more. In the spirit of most biopics, they cover a massive amount of themes and topics.
Now, most films realize that they can only do one or two (MAYBE three) themes really well, but biopics seem to think that themes are just things you skim across to get to the next one. I, Tonya is no different. Now the film does cover a lot of these themes better than other biopics I can think of, but if the film focused up on doing a few of them REALLY well, then I, Tonya would have been a significantly more powerful film.
At one point, especially during Harding’s scandal, they also try to draw a lot of humor from human stupidity. It was the funniest segment in the entire movie (especially since the movie is mostly depressing). However, it was really hard for me to justify such a tonal shift.
And this is really where we get to the meat of the issue: I, Tonya wants to be a really good biopic of Tonya Harding more than it wants to be a really good movie. Fortunately, it’s also a decent film too, but the movie fails at delivering exceptionalism.
There’s also some bits where they play around with “unreliable narrators” (mainly because the film “interviews” all the players involved), but I don’t think they committed enough to this idea to really matter. I know why the did it: because there’s a lot of different claims made about Tonya Harding’s life. But I wish they did something with it that really benefited the film.
Some of the music choices were oddly used… but honestly, I can’t say that any of it was awful (though I’m getting tired of all of these movies using “Spirit In the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. Seriously, when you start watching as many movies as I do, you’ll see what I mean).
All of these things I mentioned really aren’t “detractors” in the sense that it lowers the film’s quality. These are things I must mention to justify not giving I, Tonya a higher grade.
Here’s the bad stuff:
The only truly terrible thing about this movie is the CGI. They were not able to mix the computer animation well with real life. Every time Margot Robbie is on the skates, and especially when she’s doing something amazing, you can tell there’s some computer work in the background. It was really distracting.
But that was nothing compared to showing child Tonya skating. Apparently the child actress doesn’t know how to skate at all because they got an entirely different child to skate. And it was as if they copy-pasted child-Tonya’s face onto the skating child. It was some of the worst, most unconvincing CGI I’ve seen in a very very long time. They could’ve had a scene of mustachioed Superman going on a date with Rogue One’s Leia, and it still wouldn’t have been bad as that child’s CGI.
There was also this weird scene where they were showing two of the male characters being stupid, jerky, and entitled. During their conversation, they kept swiveling the camera to a poster of Ronald Reagan (hanging in the house they were staying at). When the two men leave the room, they get a close-up on the Reagan poster for no reason.
This cinematographic choice baffled me, and it made me wonder if they were trying to tie those two guys being assholes to them apparently being Republicans. The only other explanation is that they had no clue what they were doing, and they just kept doing close-ups on the poster just because.
Either way, it’s a pretty good example of I, Tonya’s cinematography being generally unexceptional.
Also, listen I think Margot Robbie looks young… but trying to get her to look like a teenager was pushing the bounds of my suspension of disbelief… even if she had braces on.
So for what it’s worth, I think Margot Robbie does great, and I think Allison Janney is amazingly unlikable. I also think the film skims the surface of covering a few themes really well. But the rest of the film is muddled in confusion. If this film was some documentary instead of a motion picture, I could understand some of their odd choices. However, since it’s a movie, I wish they found a way to tighten everything up… like Margot Robbie’s leotard wedgie tight.
6 out of 10