I, Tonya: The Chameleonic Biopic

When I first saw the trailer for I, Tonya, I was sitting in a theater waiting to watch Murder on the Orient Express. Marked by fast-paced, explosive music and a series of rapid-fire cuts and comedic sequences, the trailer had me hooked almost instantly. On one fateful night several months later, when I had all but forgotten about the movie, my friend Kevin convinced me to switch our movie tickets from The Post to I, Tonya. By the time the curtain dropped at the end of the movie, I wasn’t disappointed with my choice at all. I, Tonya, takes an outdated scandal that consumed the world in the 90’s and transforms it into a kaleidoscopic sheen of genres, ultimately resulting in a biopic that paints Tonya Harding as neither a victim nor a perpetrator, but rather, a human being that was let down by herself and the media.

From the get-go, I, Tonya boldly introduces its brutal cinematography through the fiery and ruthless performance of Allison Janney’s LaVona Harding, Tonya’s chainsmoking foul-mouthed mother. Although it’s clear to viewers that LaVona wants Tonya to be the best figure skater out there, the film refuses to conceal the abusive nature of her relationship with her daughter, showcasing multiple instances of her hitting, pushing, and even stabbing Tonya. The chemistry between Robbie and Janney is comparable to Whiplash‘s chemistry between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons — both of the “mentors” push their pupils through the unconventional means of abuse and brutality. Janney’s Golden Globe winning performance strongly sets the dark humored tone of the movie early on, which is only furthered by the introduction of Sebastian Stan’s character, Jeff Gillooly. Even though Stan’s Gillooly voice impression seems to fall flat at times (in the most hilarious of ways), he manages to capture the abusive and obsessive nature of Gillooly through great emotional acting.

Besides its cast and its eerily well-done costuming (seriously, the cast looks almost identical to its counterparts), I, Tonya also succeeds by smoothly meshing together a few different genres, which keeps its audience on its feet. The film introduces the elements of a drama, comedy, romance, and even a thriller in order to perfectly compliment its well-written story and the perspectives of its three-dimensional characters. Each character has the potential to be your favorite character in one scene but then you might absolutely despise them in the next. Craig Gillepsie is absolutely brilliant for crafting this complexity between his characters.

One of the greatest worries that many of the people that don’t wish to see the film have is the worry that it portrays Tonya Harding as a victim. Although this is a valid concern, I, Tonya refuses to paint its titular character as a victim, but rather, a character that struggles with her inner demons and lets herself and others down constantly. Gillepsie doesn’t display any sides of bias in his direction of the film, and he gives every character moments of redemption and failure. Except for Shawn Eckhardt, a character that Paul Walter Hauser injects with contagious hilarity.

All in all, despite the controversy of its source material, I, Tonya proves to be an entertaining film while also retaining a high standard of complexity and depth for all of its characters: a contrast that breathes new life into an old scandal, and one that masterfully weaves together a biopic that will have you in tears from all types of emotion.

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