Weeks before “I, Tonya’s” release, Neon announced their new film with a series of trailers that touted the feature to be the “Goodfellas of figure skating.” If you happened to catch one of these trailers (or are reading this review before viewing), it’s likely that you will find these words echoing in your head while you watch the movie. Every ounce of seemingly innovative cinematography, editing, and music score will become tainted by these four words until you are left with an obvious rehash of other brilliant sports or underdog films that came before it (“The Fighter” comes to mind almost instantly).
Still, Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the title character is the best performance I have seen this year from a leading lady. Tonya Harding was a star and Robbie shines in every sense of the word. She commands the screen and makes you feel for the character deeply. We want Tonya to succeed so badly, to become more than an unfortunate victim of circumstance. It is here that the filmmakers truly succeed in their storytelling and character development. As much as we root for Harding’s success and hope that she will get the courage to step away from her abusive home life, the film brilliantly plants a seed of doubt that will stick with the viewer long after they leave the theater. Does constantly blaming everyone else for the failures in your life actually mean that you are the culprit and not the victim?
Because of the character’s complacency, “I, Tonya” tends to feel very real and true to life, but also very repetitive at points (as real life tends to be). You might find yourself repeatedly cringing as Tonya repeats the same mistakes over and over again. This can cause the audience to drift and lose sight of the brilliant acting that is taking place on screen. Even the marvelous chemistry between Robbie, LaVona (Allison Janney) and Jeff (Sebastian Stan) can’t make these moments feel fresh. The actors give it everything they have and will cause the audience to try to do the same, but eventually, a feeling of déjà-vu sets in, leaving the movie feeling about thirty minutes too long.
Even though “I, Tonya” definitely replicates the style of “Goodfellas”, one can’t help but leave the theater realizing how incredible of a feat that is for a movie about figure skating. The filmmakers and actors did an excellent job here, but in the end they were fighting an uphill battle with such a repetitive biography as their source material.