[Screen It]

"I, TONYA"
(2017) (Margot Robbie, Allison Janney) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: An Olympic hopeful, abused most of her life, tries to return to the Olympics, only to have her ex-husband and his buddy throw a monkey wrench into her plans.
PLOT:
Years after an incident before the 1994 Winter Olympic Games became a sensational news story known around the world, a number of pivotal figures in that are interviewed for their take regarding their involvement in the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan (CAITLIN CARVER).

Of course, that directly involves skating rival Tonya Harding (MARGOT ROBBIE) who grew up with a demanding and physically abusive mother in LaVona Golden (ALLISON JANNEY) with whom she's now mostly estranged from as a young adult.

But just like she contended with abuse as a child, she continued to experience that at the hands of her boyfriend, Jeff Gillooly (SEBASTIAN STAN), who eventually became her husband in a tormented marriage.

And things then got worse when he and his would-be bodyguard pal, Shawn (PAUL WALTER HAUSER), decided to help out Tonya's chances of going for the gold by eliminating her rival. As their look-back perspectives intertwine, we come to see what formed Tonya into the person she was at the height of her success, as well as what happened following the attack.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Unlike many sports and even their summer counterparts, the Winter Olympics games are, for the most part, non-contact events. Sure, people might collide while speed skating or wipe out in any number of events involving snow, ice, and speed, but outside of ice hockey, there's usually no purposeful violence.

That was the case at least until the 1994 Games where medal hopeful Nancy Kerrigan was whacked with a police baton. Okay, it didn't happen during the actual competition and it wasn't a competitor who assaulted her. But it certainly shined a light on the ultra-competitive sport of figure skating and one Tonya Harding.

At the time, the 24-year-old was one of the top skaters in the world, but then her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and co-conspirator Shawn Eckardt hired Shane Stant to do the hit and remove Kerrigan from medal consideration. Harding ended up pleading guilty to conspiring to hinder the resultant prosecution, received three years probation, got several hundred hours of community service, and a hefty fine. Oh, and she was banned from the sport for life.

That sordid tale now comes to light -- tongue firmly planted in cheek as evidenced by the opening on-screen disclaimer of sorts -- in the terrific dramedy, "I, Tonya." Using the storytelling tactic where characters talk to the camera as if being interviewed after the fact (think of TV's "The Office" or "Modern Family" as examples of that), and being told from different perspectives and with voice-over narration explaining matters, the offering feels at times like something akin to an ice skating version of "Goodfellas."

It's certainly satirical -- especially as related to the bumbling criminals and their plotting, execution and attempts to cover up their wrongdoing -- and screenwriter Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie easily could have maintained that tone throughout. Instead, they wisely -- and thankfully -- give the film some additional depth, emotional resonance and even sympathy for the Harding character through the way the story is told.

A brilliant Margot Robbie stars as the title character who, at least according to the film (I'm certainly no expert on the real person and her upbringing), was brought up by an overbearing and abusive mother (a terrific Allison Janney) in a "white trash" environment and pushed to be a skating champion from a young age.

She eventually escaped from the abuse at the hands of her mom only to trade that in for abuse doled out by her boyfriend and future husband (Sebastian Stan) in one of those on-again, off-again relationships that obviously isn't good for those involved yet they keep returning to it.

As do Gillespie and Rogers who repeatedly return to the post-story interviews featuring the main characters. Some viewers might tire of that tactic (or be surprised by all of the decidedly R-rated material), but I found that they only added to the levity of the offering.

Throw in stellar performances by the leads, good dialogue and a quick pace, the two-hour offering speeds along like a graceful figure skater at the top of her game, delivering an entertaining performance that scores high marks both technically and artistically. "I, Tonya" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed December 1, 2017 / Posted January 19, 2018


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