Monday, January 1, 2018

Review: Margot Robbie is a tour-de-force in the darkly funny "I, Tonya"

I, Tonya Review
The Tonya Harding incident happened in 1994, and I was way too young to really grasp what was happening. I was born in 1989, and my childhood was the 1990's. I have vague memories of news footage of the O.J. Simpson trial and the Los Angeles race riots. When I say vague, I mean it in every fashion of the definition. I was too young to understand what was going on, or the significance of those events. I only found out later in life that there were several crazy crime stories that received massive amounts of news coverage in the 1990's. But even as a man approaching his 30's, I never really new much about the Tonya Harding story until I saw this movie.

I knew a little, enough that I would have loved to have seen Ryan Murphy's "American Crime Story" tackle the story on one of the seasons of his anthology. Now, that I have seen "I, Tonya" this is the adaptation of the story. "I, Tonya" is a perfect blend of the funny and the unflinching. It is spearheaded by a masterful performance by Margot Robbie, a performance so special that I feel we'll be discussing it many years to come. Margot Robbie has proved she isn't just a pretty face, she isn't just eye candy. She is a full fledged performer and I am awfully curious to see how her career materializes in the upcoming years. Not that she's alone, so many good actors appear and deliver great performances that it feels like a great acting overload.

Sebastian Stan is great as Jeff Gillooly, the husband of Tonya Harding. A guy that isn't entirely good for Tonya but she stays with him anyway, and the one person who was directly responsible for Tony'a downfall. Allison Janney gives one of the most addicting performances of her career as LaVona Golden, Tonya's mom who pushed Tonya in every aspect of her life, sometimes to an abusive affect. It's a willfully outlandish performance that it molds itself into outstanding. Julianne Nicholson is really great as Diane, Tonya's first and only skating coach. I first saw Nicholson in "Black Mass," where she made her limited screen time count, making a fully realized character out of merely a handful of scenes. She pretty much does the same thing here, with an equally profound result. Then there is Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn, Tonya's bodyguard and Jeff's friend, the mastermind of Tonya's downfall. It's easily the strangest performance of the entire movie, but nobody made me laugh harder.

Most biopic movies follow a standard template. They feel like you are listening to a greatest hits CD of one of your favorite bands. Biopic movies zip through the life of a famous or popular person, never stopping for significant footnotes, or for depth or for emotion or for careful exposition in some circumstances. "I, Tonya" approaches this true story in a different light. It is told through interviews by unnamed biographers, as if the actor are reflecting on the story in hindsight, as we see it play out in front of us through flashbacks. Sure, it's not a new idea, but it certainly added a style we usually don't see in biopic movies. We get a good idea of who Tonya was and how she became the person she is, and it is told in a funnier light. I like that about the movie. I don't need the checklist version of her story. I don't need to see a bunch of famous faces impersonating real people. I need the actors to become the characters, I need to believe in this story. Which is exactly what happens in "I, Tonya."

The funny structure and style of this movie makes this film stand out standing next to other biopic movies. But what makes this film so hypnotic is, like I said above, the unbelievable performances by Margot Robbie. There is a reason why she is already getting award buzz for this season. This is going to be a shifting moment for her for her career, and again, I am ready and waiting to see what comes next for her.


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