TIFF Review: ‘I, Tonya’ is Run-of-the-Mill Biopic

She rose from trailer park roots to become one of the greatest figure skaters in the world, yet she was always a polarizing figure. Undeterred in her use of vulgar language,Moshe was as fearless off the I’ve as she was in it, and in the politically charged world of competitive figure skating, that was not a good thing for her. There was talent, no question, but there was also a troubled past, and present that always threatened to pull her off that precious podium.

Abused emotionally and physically by her mother, Harding began skating when she was three. What she lacked in the technical aspects of the sport she made up for in her free style skating which was breathtaking to watch. Built differently than most of the girls in the sport, she was not tiny, for while short, she was stocky, with powerful, muscular legs.

By the late eighties she was bound for the Olympics as one of the finest figure skaters in the world, the first woman to execute and Land the difficult triple axel jump in a program and later in her career she accomplished two in a single program. Her main competition for Olympic gold was her team-mate, the dark haired beauty Nancy Kerrigan. When Kerrigan was attacked after a routine, the intent was clearly to break her leg, but the attacker managed only to badly bruise her. Shortly after it became clear Harding’s husband had paid for the attack, and that Harding might have been aware and complicit.

Her career never survived the scandal, she famously broke down in tears when her skate laces and blades failed her, and bowed out of the Olympics, finishing a distant eighth. In true Cinderella style, Kerrigan won silver at those very Olympics. Banned for life by the skating world, Harding was famous, but much more infamous. Reviled by America, what was she to do?

This new film explores the life of Harding, with a splendid performance from Margot Robbie in the leading role. The Australian actress, bulked up with padding, her natural beauty toned down. Her performance encapsulates loopy mentality Harding became famous for having. After boxing there was a sex tape, then a short lived boxing career, then a best selling book, and today, after trying acting, she is a narrator of a cable TV series. We see how the skating world itself, biased against this brash girl from the beginning, in their own perverse way formed her. Robbie proves what many already knew, that she is a major new talent.

The film explores her rise from nothing to the Greatest of heights in her world, and the sudden, stunning fall of that. She is nothing if not a survivor.

I remember reading an article about her in the nineties that I have never forgotten. Her lawyer, I believe was speaking and said “there is a whole lot of trailer trash in her thinking”. True words.

Alison Janney is excellent as her abusive and controlling mother, but this is Robbie’s coming out party, announced her as a major talent. I thought we already knew that, but ok. I just wish she had a better film to showcase her gifts. This one feels like an ABC movie of the week with bad language. Despite fine work from Robbie, who is obviously committed to the film, it never rises beyond being average…at best. All that said, the actress shines as bright as a gold medal and makes this a trip worth taking.

Rating: 2.5/5

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