I, Tonya (2017)

A very Scorsese-esque (well, Scorsese-imitator-esque) retelling of the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan controversy, and Tonya’s life leading up to it. An event before my time (and oceans away), I knew nothing of it before the film, so my sensationalist take on it got to be the film itself, in all its glib pop glory, instead of the tabloid take on the event that the film positions itself as a response to.

The film is more “The Big Short” than “Goodfellas”, much as it would like to be more the latter, with its many 20th century rock songs (including, yes, “Spirit in the Sky”), fourth-wall breaks, freeze frames, multiple narrators in a vaguely Rashomon-inspired style, and so on. This gives the film a fun, brisk energy, but also instigates a lot of tonal whiplash, especially when the film decides to get bluntly moralising at the end. When the film itself is a sensationalist take, and one that treats its serious topics glibly, abruptly turning the condescension in the movie from the class condescension that best Tonya, to the audience itself, chiding them for being as much Tonya’s attackers as the tabloid press, it’s on much shakier ground – especially for viewers like me that have literally never even seen that tabloid coverage.

17tonya

Perhaps the film only really works for American audiences, but the stellar performance of its Australian lead is its greatest strength. Margot Robbie does excellent work, clearly hungry to continue to prove herself in properly meaty roles. Her facial expressiveness is fantastic, and she rides the film’s messy tonal switches better than any other (Sebastian Stan fumbles a bit with that, though he’s great in the sections that play to his strength, meanwhile Allison Janney excels early on in the film but feels out of place as the tone continues to shift).

As a character study and look at patterns of abuse, the film does pretty good work. As an exercises for its cast, it does great work. On its own terms, it falters, though manages to stay consistently entertaining. Three triple axels, and an obligatory actual footage reel in the credits.

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