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Middleburg Film Review: ‘I, Tonya’ Is a Vibrant Account of an Infamous Figure

robbie itonya

I Tonya” No U.S. Distribution2017 MIDDLEBURG FILM FESTIVAL: In one of the most unconventional biopics to make its way onto our screens in years, Craig Gillespie‘s darkly comedic yet incredibly moving “I, Tonya” is an avalanche of greatness that sustains its high energy and witty beats.  Headlined by an unbelievable Margot Robbie, the film’s quirky script makes Tonya Harding a caring, unconventional fallen hero.  Immaculately made and faultless in its editing, the characters are utterly reachable and is insightfully conceived.  A gem of a film.

I, Tonya” tells the story of competitive ice skater Tonya Harding (played by Margot Robbie) who rises among the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.  From difficult beginnings with her ferocious mother LaVona (played by Allison Janney), all seems to be a “Cinderella story” until her husband Jeff Gillooly (played by Sebastian Stan) gets involved.

itonya imageOn the surface, the casting of Margot Robbie seemed to be way off base.  A beautiful Australian actress who was introduced to us the Barbie doll wife in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” seemed ill-equipped to capture the awkward and peculiar personality of the infamous figure skater.  Robbie goes well beyond a surface impression as she penetrates the psyche of a doomed figure and makes you care.  She captures the essence of a woman, who has been a lifelong victim of a dysfunctional family and later on, the media.  Upbeat, excellent, and measures how far we’ve come in our obsession with the underdog.  Spoiler alert: not that far.

itonya janneyAllison Janney‘s turn as a diabolical mother is uncompromising and unsettling, just as much as she is hilarious.  Her acute understanding of a mother with heavy smoking and drinking habits, is unflinching as she pours herself in, mind, body, and soul.  Sebastian Stan‘s Jeff Gillooly is relentless, even bringing a surprising sensitivity to a role that would normally have audiences firmly against him.

One of the film’s interesting standouts is Paul Walter Hauser‘s scene-stealing turn as Shawn Eckhardt.  A comedic and utterly enthralling examination of a man with delusions of grandeur abducts the audience into his funny and ridiculous world.  As should be expected, Julianne Nicholson‘s presence is poised and felt in her brief role as Tonya’s coach.

Steven Rogers‘ lively and whimsical script latches firmly onto the viewer’s attention, not long before releasing us by credits end.  Director Gillespie’s technical team is damn near perfect as Nicholas Karakatsanis‘ camera work feels larger than life while Tatiana S. Riegel‘s editing is top-notch. 

If there’s one thing that feels “off,” the visual effects in the skating sequences could have been more polished as you can tell that Robbie’s face is digitally placed onto another skater’s body.  It might have also been beneficial to get another actress to play Tonya and Jeff at ages 15 as Robbie and Stan’s portrayal of teenagers is beyond their physical capabilities.  With this said, both instances are totally forgivable as what it gives is so much better than where it missteps.

I, Tonya” is a fragrant smash; exhilarating as it deconstructs a mythical creature of the media past, giving it heart and humor.  It’s completely worthy of every award that can and will be thrown at this awards season.  An Oscar-worthy piece that hypnotizes, leaving you wishing it would never, ever end.

“I, Tonya” is screening at the Middleburg Film Festival, is distributed by NEON, and opens in theaters on Dec. 8.

GRADE: (★)

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “I, TONYA” ranks!

CLICK THE CATEGORY TO SEE THE OSCAR PREDICTIONS:

MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |

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Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.

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Ben Rendall Morris

This seems to be building and building I wonder if we should start looking to Best Picture as well, need to see how the critic awards react to this. But if Janney and Robbie are frontrunners(as much as you can be at this point it only adds to potential love.

Joey Magidson

Currently my favorite film of the year so far.

thaddeusbuttmunchmd

I haven’t seen it yet- but I love, LOVE Margot Robbie!!

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