Margot Robbie dazzles in I, Tonya; which with its unbalanced and overly injected pop song narrative plays like someone trying to make a David O. Russell film that’s trying to be like a Martin Scorsese film. Yet at the same time the inconsistent tone and obnoxious performances compliment the ridiculous true story of Tonya Harding rather well.
The film plays like a cross between Goodfellas, with its blunt and frank voiceover narration to seminal popular music being injected every other scene and Bob Fosse’s Star 80 and Lenny, whereas the film is setup like a faux documentary with retrospective interviews from the characters in the film.
What really works in the film are the performances. Margot Robbie has never been better, and this film was a big deal to her. Not only was this her first film as a producer, but this was the first film she choose to do with her production deal she made with Warner Brothers in the midst of the production of Suicide Squad. Allison Janey is wonderful as always, and Sebastian Stan does an excellent job as the sleazy husband. It’s refreshing to see Stan finally turn up in a film where he’s not melodramatically brooding behind long hair breaking things with a silver arm.
Perhaps the biggest pitfall of the film is that it loses its focus on how serious to take the material, yet wanting to keep it campy and ridiculous. There are a couple of moments in the film where the fourth wall is broken, and it really doesn’t work. It makes us question the sincerity of what’s happening on screen.
Regardless of narrative struggles and a meandering tone, I, Tonya is a good film with two fantastic performances by Robbie and Janey. While the film doesn’t take itself as serious as it probably should have during some parts, it is a reflection of one of the events that changed the trajectory of fusing American pop culture with media coverage and the obsession of the populus that quickly follows.
Review by Frank Mengarelli