A "much ado about nothing" movie, I, Tonya retells the true-life tale of the assault on skater Nancy Kerrigan in winter 1994, when a hired thug wielding a baton tried to get the Olympic athlete out of the way of her rival, Tonya Harding.
Over 20 years later, the circumstances of the assault are still murky, swamped in he-said, she-said details. Here, the story is heightened by frame-breaking. Its star and co-producer, Margot Robbie, strangely excels at direct address to the camera, as in The Big Short, when Robbie took a bubble-bath to better concentrate the minds of viewers while she explained the concept of the sub-prime mortgage.
Those convinced by Suicide Squad that Robbie couldn't act will be astonished by the glittering, scowling vehemence she brings to this performance. It's furious, and yet it's never monotonous; she's dead impressive as a talented woman whose troubles were arguably not her own causing.
I, Tonya reminds us of the scope of Harding's achievements as a skater, as well as the way her dirt-poor Portland upbringing skunked her with the patricians in charge of the world of figure skating. But the movie adds pleading for Harding. First, it focuses on the battery she took from her mother (Allison Janney, a deep-down dirty figure from a melodrama—hissable but hard to believe). The abuse continues from her porn-'stached husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), whom mom warned Tonya about.
To the camera, Tonya denies she took a potshot at Jeff, even as we see her pumping the smoking shell out of the shotgun. After the scandal, we see her short-lived career as a boxer. The best known of Tonya's bouts was the foxy-boxing match she did with Monicagate veteran Paula Jones for a loathsome reality show on Fox. There's juicy material in Harding's story, but director Craig Gillespie's quest for excitement muddies the water.
'I, Tonya' is playing in wide release in the North Bay.