"I, Tonya" Crushes the Competition


It's January, which usually results in a trash pile of options at the cinema. Fortunately for Houston, the local Alamo Drafthouse at Mason Park cares about our viewing pleasure, and, despite a limited number of screens, has allotted space for the delightful "I, Tonya".

"I, Tonya" tells the wild, true story of the figure skater Tonya Harding, two time olympic competitor, and the first woman to ever pull off a triple axel in short competition. Harding became a household name not for these accomplishments, but for a bizarre scandal involving the attack of a rival skater, Nancy Kerrigan. The film portrays Tonya's entire career both off and on the ice, establishing her early years under command of her brash, abusive mother (played brilliantly by Allison Janney), then showcasing the strange sequence of events that eventually lead to her 1994 ban from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Margot Robbie fantastically portrays the determined, yet somewhat dimwitted Harding, who strives to be loved by a world that consistently rejects her for her abrasive personality and low socioeconomic status.

Tonya moves from her broken, abusive childhood home life into the arms of the goofy, mustache-wielding Jeff Gillooly, played by the unrecognizable Sebastian Stan, who continues the cycle of abuse as he beats Tonya on a regular basis without reason. Tonya's willingness to put makeup on the bruises and continue to go out and perform at a high level while suffering such abuse at home is nothing short of admirable, and is the driving force behind our affection towards her character. 

Director Craig Gillespie (The Finest HoursLars and the Real Girl) is not known for tackling such dark material, but does so beautifully and with ease, finding the right balance between the dramatic and the plain silly. The film is brutally funny in its portrayal of the trashiness and utter stupidity of some of these characters, with humor that is reminiscent of films such as Richard Linklater's "Bernie," but it still somehow manages to sneak up on us dramatically as it rears into its final act. We may laugh a little at these characters, but the film finds a way to make us care about them as well, which is a huge testament to Gillespie's ability as a director.

"I, Tonya" skates its way into our hearts by blending non-fictional drama with biting black comedy, boasting fantastic performances by everyone around, and keeping a tight pace throughout its 2 hour running time. In a cold January season with few options, "I, Tonya" crushes the competition.