I, Tonya 

Director: Craig Gillespie. Starring Margot Robbie, Sebastian StanLength: 121 minutes.

Raised by a demanding and unaffectionate mother, Tonya Harding seeks her redemption through the discipline of figure skating, but her blunt personality and her inability to adapt to the rules of a world built on appearances prevent her to reach the highest step of the podium.

Her private life is also rather problematic, especially when, in an attempt to escape motherly pressure, she decides to marry a man who beats her…

But the last and most notorious chapter of her story is the one regarding the aggression against her colleague and competitor Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, on the eve of the Olympic Games, of which she’s considered the instigator.

But which is the truth about Tonya?

What is the life of a person? Is it what she tells about herself? What the ones closest to her recount? Or the one the papers tell?

Produced by and starring the talented Margot Robbie, I, Tonya is an unconventional biopic.

Surprising but profound, finding a singular but most effective way to depict a villain (that’s how Tonya Harding is portrayed by all media outlets since the day of the aggression that would mark her life forever), the film deconstructs and rebuilds her psychology and human saga in a mockumentary fashion (complete with recreated but absolutely true “talking heads”), without losing the ability to thrill and involve.

The story of Tonya and her life as white trash, her desperate attempts to emerge against everything and everyone, her desperate longing for love and acceptance can often assume farcical tones. But they nonetheless challenge the viewers to empathize with this imperfect human being, whose anger is everything but grandiose and whose misery we learn to love just as much as her talent.

The tapestry of characters surrounding the protagonist (surreal to the point of shocking us when, during the end titles, we discover they perfectly coincide with their real counterparts) is the perfect corollary of an american dream made of thousands of delusions and many hypocrisies, a world and a society which need to assign labels and where triumphs aren’t enough to guarantee happiness.

Gillespie’s movie has enough rythm, depth and originality to make a 20 year old news story relevant to us, and Robbie pours heart and intelligence into a character with which she clearly sympathizes in spite of her well known limitations.

The description of the relationship between Tonya and her husband Jeff through a dry irony still manages to bring to the surface the faulty logic of a sick and destructive love, born as an escape and transformed into a prison from which there’s no way out, because it’s not even possible to think of being “loved” in a different way.

All supporting characters shine, starting from Allison Janney, playing a tyrannical and exploitative mother. The moments involving Tonya’s husband (Sebastian Stan is excellent at conveying vulnerability, meanness and obtusity to his character) and his friend Shawn are a treat, authors of Tonya’s downfall and absolutely enjoyable as a pair criminals straight out of a Cohen or Tarantino movie.   

Problematic elements for the viewer: a few scenes of tension and violence.

Zac Alstin

<strong>Zac Alstin</strong> is a writer, editor and stay-at-home dad to two marvellous children, in Adelaide, South Australia. His hobbies include martial arts, making things at home, and contemplating...