TIFF Review: I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie


TIFF Review: I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie
  1. TIFF Review: I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie
    laineygossip.com
    I, Tonya sold during TIFF to distributors Neon and 30West, in a deal said to be $5 million. Lainey thinks that’s low, but it sounds about right to me—the natural effect of the disastrous summer is more cautious spending. Netflix was apparently offering $8 million—I ran across some Netflix buyers …
    Celebrities
Margot Robbie attends the 'I, Tonya' premiere during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 8, 2017 in Toronto, Canada 297728

I, Tonya is heavy on gimmicks, using not only a documentary format and “irony free” and “wildly contradictory” talking-head interviews—think To Die For—but also breaking the fourth wall, which crosses the documentary format but doesn’t screw up the film. It’s an incredible tonal balancing act, half cinéma vérité, half reality TV confessional, and it’s managed almost perfectly by actors who commit to the premise (devised by screenwriter Steve Rogers, best known for romantic dramas like Hope Floats), and director Craig Gillespie, who is no stranger to odd tones, having directed Lars and the Real Girl. Actors have room to perform, there’s no fancy stuff in the interview segments, and the trickiest camera work is reserved for the ice skating scenes, which required a skating double and digital effects to complete. The narrative portions are approached in a low-key, classic way, which gives I, Tonya the anchor it needs to effectively sell the gimmicks.

But what really powers I, Tonya is class. The heart of I, Tonya is Tonya Harding’s struggle with a sport and a system rooted in a world of privilege that is closed to Tonya, and even when she tries to fit in, it proves indecipherable. Nancy Kerrigan came from a working class background, but her camera-ready blue collar family is a world away from Tonya’s hardscrabble upbringing in Portland, Oregon. Class isn’t just defined as “rich, and everyone else”, and what I, Tonya does so well is show how far the gulf really is between the strata—Tonya is lower class, Nancy is working class, but for all the difference it affords her, Nancy might as well be royalty.

Tonya’s homemade uniforms and the fur coat made out of rabbits her father skinned set her apart from the other girls in the skating world. Her colors are a little too bright and her sequins slightly too many; she likes hard rock and blue nail polish. Her skating is athletic, but she doesn’t have the grace of other skaters, and she yells at judges and curses at the rink. She is not, as one judge tells her, what they want representing their sport and country. Tonya’s famous triple axel forces judges to give her the scores she deserves, but there is a constant strain of dislike aimed at her, even when she’s winning.

And her struggle isn’t just on the ice. I, Tonya delves into Tonya’s personal life, from her relationship with her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney, working on that Oscar), and then her husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, disappearing behind a regrettable mustache and soft voice). The film is at its liveliest when cutting between interviews with Tonya, LaVona, and Jeff, all of whom tell different versions of the same events. Whether you believe her or not, the film traces Tonya’s history of abuse and how an abusive home life with LaVona leads to an abusive home life with Jeff, and Tonya herself compares her infamy to abuse. Tonya has a hard life where she has to fight for every scrap and work three times as hard to force her way into world class competition, so by the time “the incident” comes up, it feels like the natural progression of a trapped animal desperately seeking a way out.

I, Tonya does not attempt to definitively answer who knew what, and when, or who is at most fault, though Jeff does admit to “completely ruining” Tonya’s career. The film is most sympathetic to Tonya, but throughout the buildup it is shown how Tonya can never accept responsibility for anything, so it does leave a sliver of doubt about the degree of her innocence. The attack itself is a “World’s…

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