Many sports films based on true events often tend to present a mostly glorious image of the competition the protagonist participates in. I, Tonya, however, at times feels more like a regular drama with snippets of sports action interwoven in the story.

‘I Tonya’ Blu-Ray Review

Australian director Craig Gillespie‘s (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night) latest film centers around one of the biggest sports scandals of the past 25 years.

Just weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillihammer, Norway, a man struck U.S. figure skater Nancy Kerrigan above the knee with a baton-like club after Kerrigan had finished a national figure skating championships practice in Detroit. Kerrigan and one of her main rivals, Tonya Harding, (Margot Robbie) were ultimately selected to compete at the Olympics, though an FBI investigation soon discovered that Harding and her violent ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) were indirectly implicated in the attack on Kerrigan.

I, Tonya begins tracing Harding’s humble beginnings in life and in the sport, as well as the events that led to the infamous scandal that drew headlines and profoundly hurt the American skater’s already-negative reputation and career.

The film is brilliantly written, and includes mockumentary-style interviews with all of the main people who played a significant role in Harding’s life: her cruel and abusive mother LaVona (a brilliant Allison Janney in an Oscar-winning performance), Gillooly, Tonya’s bodyguard and Gillooly’s friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) who was also involved in the attack, a reporter (Bobby Cannavale) and more. Add the occasional breaking of the fourth wall by Robbie as Harding, and I, Tonya is an intriguing dark comedy-drama that takes an honest look at a lower-class American family of the era.

More specifically, the film reveals how Harding vied to not only break free from the repeated abuse — both verbal and physical — she suffered at the hands of both her mother and Gillooly, but also to change U.S. skating judges’ perception of her as a white-trash girl with crazy outfits, flashy nail polish colors, and unconventional choices for the music genres (hard rock, at first) that accompanied her skating routines. Robbie — who was nominated for Golden Globe and Academy Awards for her performance and who also produced the film — is astounding as Harding. Even when she isn’t speaking, Robbie manages to convey all of the athlete’s pain, frustration and fear so beautifully it merits placing her in the annals of Hollywood history among the top actors who have starred in biopics.

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Janney is also bone-chillingly superb as the filterless, often virile and nasty LaVona, a woman who refused to take any nonsense not only from her daughter but from virtually anyone else around her.

Part of what also makes I, Tonya such a memorable movie is not only the figure skating competition scenes — which include awesome triple-axel landings — but also a soundtrack filled with classic and diverse hits, from “Barracuda” to “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”

Perhaps one of the few things that could have made the film better would have been showing a more detailed reaction from Kerrigan and her team to the assault. Kerrigan is not portrayed as doing anything in the film aside from obviously furiously yelping in pain and crying “Why? Why?” in brief television footage of her crew tending to her injured knee.

There are several takeaways from I, Tonya, but perhaps one of the greatest is that there are nearly always two sides to every story. Not everyone is entirely a culprit or completely innocent in any given situation.

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