Since the birth of the 24 hour news cycle it has been easy to condense people down to a headline. If there is a figure who most encapsulates this it is Tonya Harding. In the build-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics, figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked. Suspicion soon fell on fellow competitor Tonya Harding's husband and with it, a media storm fell hard upon the couple. I, Tonya charts the rise of the aforementioned figure skater through abusive relationships with her husband and mother, taking in the infamous attack on her competitor and beyond.
It's a meaty part for Margot Robbie who attacks it with aplomb. She brings a furious resilience to the role that, while not making Tonya likeable, makes the character admirable. The film doesn't seek to defend the character but does seek to pull her back from her place as a cultural punchline. The conversation around the film has turned to that of the merits of Allison Janney's performance as Tonya's mother, and it will almost certainly net her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. To give Janney credit, she is brilliant in this film: a brash, near offensive creation but with enough grey to not be purely a monster. I also liked Sebastian Stan's performance as Tonya's husband, with the actor giving a subtly intricate turn as an abusive predator. But this is Robbie's film, marking the young star as a fully-fledged award-worthy talent.
Director Craig Gillespie makes the inspired choice to construct the film as a documentary, with to camera 'interviews' throughout. The film recreates the key moments with remarkable precision and has a smack of authenticity that most reminded me of American Crime Story. Where I, Tonya impresses most is when the focus falls on addressing the issue of domestic violence. Tonya is hit in this film. A lot. She is struck by her mother and then her partner. The film explores, in some detail, these incidents and they are horrific to watch. They are not played for laughs or to tip the balance of the audience's sympathies but they do add a clarity to the film. It almost diminishes the end product when the narrative makes the necessary move away from this focus to the events that will be familiar to many.
I, Tonya has a tricky balancing act to pull off and, for the most part, does this confidently. The film manages to keep Tonya Harding as a relatively dislikeable figure, but one that at points seems more wronged than we have been led to believe. The focus on domestic violence feels brave and is played with a subtlety that makes it the best part of the film. Strip away some of the mannerisms and the outlandish events of the film's second half (so implausible it has to be a true story) and you are left with a story that has an uncomfortable truth to show.