Margot Robbie shines as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding in Craig Gillespie's darkly comic biopic I, TONYA

Margot Robbie in I, TONYA

Margot Robbie shines as disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding in Craig Gillespie’s darkly comic biopic

Like Margot Robbie, I’d never heard of Tonya Harding before I, TONYA but I certainly won’t forget her in a hurry. The former champion figure skater certainly has an interesting story to tell, so interesting in fact that you’d be forgiven for thinking its fiction.

I,TONYA tells the life story of Harding (Robbie), from her introduction into ice skating at age four to her rise amongst the ranks at the US Figure Skating Championship. The film charts her rocky relationship with her abusive mother (Allison Janney), her on/off relationship with ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and her association to “the incident”, the 1994 attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan which led to Harding being banned from competitive figure skating for life.

Right from the get-go, in which Steven Rogers’ screenplay points out that the story is based on wildly conflicting statements, I, TONYA shows no starting signs of being a traditional biopic. Filmed in mockumentary-style featuring re-created interviews with the character’s real-life counterparts, director Craig Gillespie strikes the perfect balance between comedy and drama to deliver this bizarre yet fascinating story.

From Jennifer Johnson’s bright and bold costume design to the sweeping and racing camera work, there is not a wasted or dull moment in I, TONYA, giving a constant and consistent energy to the piece. The decision to play up the comedic parts of the story also works particularly well. As with life, the comedy is borne out of tragedy with the movie’s dark sense of humour always lurking in the background, even in the film’s more disturbing scenes.

But what truly stands out in I, TONYA is the performances. Margot Robbie is simply outstanding as Tonya Harding, capturing the former skater’s determination and sass perfectly to turn one of pop culture’s most infamous villains into an anti-heroine that you can’t help but root for.

Allison Janney in I, TONYA

Allison Janney is equally superb as Harding’s abusive mother LaVona, spiting venom with almost every sentence. Sebastian Stan is also excellent as Harding’s sleazy ex-husband, showcasing the humour and ridiculousness of the man.

In an attempt to keep things light, the film occasionally loses some of its focus on how serious to take the material and there are a couple of moments where the fourth wall is broken which doesn’t always work and questions the sincerity of what’s happening on screen.

That said, Rogers’ darkly comic screenplay cleverly uses Tonya and Jeff’s wildly contradictory statements to acknowledge that there is no real way to get to the truth of things and allows the audience to come to their own conclusions.

Robbie’s emotional, funny and tragic performance is also worth the ticket price alone, turning I, TONYA into one of this year’s most entertaining films.

4 out of 5 stars

I, TONYA is released in UK cinemas on 23 February 2018.