I, Tonya

[3.5 stars]

So can it be dark comedy when it is based on reality, or is that just irony? I have to admit, this film really caught be by surprise. It is funny, sad, and wonderful all at the same time.

As daughter and mother, Margot Robbie (The Legend of Tarzan) and Allison Janney (The Girl on the Train) make an incredible team. Both performances are raw and powerful and worthy of nominations, though Janney really blew it out of the park. Sebastian Stan (The Martian, Captain America: Civil War), as Tonya’s husband, is equally up to the task, though he ends up more of a cipher than Tonya does. And there are a number of smaller parts, like Bobby Cannavale’s (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) that are delightfully spot on.

There are some struggles to the flick. The growing up sequence of Tonya presented some particular problems for the movie. Mckenna Grace (How to Be a Latin Lover), as one of the younger versions of Tonya, deserves a call-out for her efforts here for sure. But Robbie was brought in just a little early for credibility for me, playing Tonya from 15 on up. Robbie can act young and look younger than her years, but not 15. Until Tonya was in her 20s, it was a hard stretch for me, pulling me out of the movie at critical moments.

That said, director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night) and writer Steven Rogers (Love the Coopers, Kate & Leopold) tackled this bit of Americana with open eyes and an open heart. Much like The Big Short, the narrative is directed at the audience, and ultimately to a point. There are some great uses of period music as well throughout the movie.

Now the truth is admittedly mutable from the top, but I cannot imagine anyone watching this and not coming away with a different opinion of Harding herself. It doesn’t apologize for her, and she certainly never will, but it re-humanizes her after she was demonized by the media and the culture. Interestingly, the rift between have and have-not and the sense of class structure that pervades figure skating feels like an apt mirror for the country today, making the film both more effective and timely.

If you’re like me, you were going to avoid this movie. Don’t. It really is funny and well done. Ultimately it is more than a bleak comedy, and that trip is worth taking as well. Any bit of art that can make you think or change your mind about something you thought you knew and remembered is worth your couple of hours to experience.

I, Tonya

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