Review – I, Tonya

“America, they want someone to love. But they want someone to hate, and they want it to be easy.”

Pretty quickly into I, Tonya you start to realize it’s brilliant and fiery indictment on media, celebrity, the USA and all of us. It prefaces the film by stating it’s based on interviews with those involved that all conflict each other. Everybody wants to tell Tonya’s story, but nobody wants to listen to Tonya tell it. We all want to sort these things into dichotomies when it’s never that simple. Tonya is either innocent or complicit, characters either loved or hated her. Jeff Gillooly is either an abusive, monstrous figure or a mild-mannered guy that’s in over his head. LaVona, Tonya’s mother, was either responsible for ruining Tonya’s chance at normalcy from a young age, or molded her into a figure skater who at one point was almost unparalleled. We find out as the film goes on that it’s both when it comes to these characters. It’s never one or the other, it’s complicated. I love that it’s complicated, eschewing many biopic pitfalls by refusing to both deify or tear down its subject – it just listens.

Margot Robbie is just fantastic here, this is a role she’ll be remembered for. It’s difficult to describe what she’s doing here, you just have to see it to understand. She’s just throwing a complete game full of 100 mph heat. I’d love to know how much of the skating Robbie did herself, and how much was done via stunt double or CG. It’s clear Robbie is doing a substantial amount herself, but they never let you catch where the stunt double happens as Gillespie films the skating routines in these long takes done so well that they just leave you wondering where Robbie could have possibly disappeared. Her name is going to be in a lot of awards conversations, and she’s earned it. I first saw her in The Wolf of Wall Street, and it was clear then that she was a serious talent, and it’s just so great to see her in meaty roles like Tonya. I hope we get decades more worth of them. Allison Janney can curse like few can, throwing cuss words like nasty knuckleballs that nobody can hit. A lot of actors can say “fuck” but few can make it sound like the word has just been invented. With the frequency in which she’s lobbing swear words like grenades, it could feel labored at a certain point in another’s hands, but not with Janney. She somehow finds a way to spew profanity at a historic rate while making you beg for more.

Sebastian Stan gives one of his best performances as Jeff Gillooly, Tonya’s ex-husband who orchestrated the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. There’s a slightly high-pitched tone he adopts in his voice that makes him seem harmless, which is very effective because it makes the moments where he viciously abuses Tonya that much more impactful and terrifying. Paul Walter Hauser is a highlight as Shawn Eckardt, Jeff’s friend and Tonya’s bodyguard who orchestrates or mis-orchestrates the hit on Nancy Kerrigan. He’s hilarious in each scene because of how self-deluded he is, but Hauser makes him relatable enough to where you feel like you might know someone like Eckardt. When they show actual interview footage with these characters at the end, you realize they weren’t overdoing it at all – they totally nailed each aspect of these people. Gillespie really casted the film spot on, and it goes a long way.

I’ve been a fan of Craig Gillespie for quite a while, a decade actually since his Lars and the Real Girl warmed my heart in ways I couldn’t have expected. His Fright Night remake was so much better than any Fright Night remake has any right to be, and I quite admired The Finest Hours. I, Tonya is by far his most energetic work, like he took a hit of Scorsese right off the blades of the ice skates he films with cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis. Their camera is constantly moving, on a kinetic high it can’t seem to come down from. There’s no telling how many camera pushins they’ll fit into any given scene. Taking another hit from Scorsese, Gillespie has a terrific soundtrack to up the manic pace of the film with iconic uses of Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger”. The film can become a bit too reliant on soundtracking to move it along, but for the most part it works enjoyably. You’ll have noticed I’ve been saying that Gillespie is taking a lot from Scorsese, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m okay with directors channeling other filmmakers so long as they do a good job of it, and Gillespie does a great job of it. I haven’t figured out who Gillespie is as an auteur yet, but his adaptability between genres and styles is not something to be diminished.

“America, they want someone to love. But they want someone to hate, and they want it to be easy.”

I can’t stop thinking about that line. It just sums up its film so beautifully and succinctly. We just always seem to want more, and want the juiciest version of events instead of the truth. We would rather believe that Tonya herself bashed in Kerrigan’s knee than believe that perhaps Tonya wasn’t aware that they were going to physically harm Kerrigan because the former is more gratuitous and a better headline. Time and time again throughout this film, you realize that Tonya is a victim too, abused by her mother, her ex-husband and she even accuses us the audience of participating in that abuse in the way we rushed to the worst conclusion about her and treated her as a punchline afterwards. If I would make a correction to the above quote, I would say that we (America) want someone to hate more than we want someone to love, but I think Gillespie’s film anticipates me thinking that and presents us a work with complicated answers to contemplate as the credits roll.

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