We were head over heels for I, Tonya the split-second we glimpsed Margot Robbie as the foul-mouthed, disgraced figure skater, but as it turns out, director Craig Gillespie’s entire film is a revelation. Critics are raving over nearly every element of the film, from Steven Rogers’ stellar script to jaw-dropping performances by Margot Robbie (some say her strongest yet) and Alison Janney, who portrays the figure skater’s chain-smoking, abusive mother.
At once hilarious and poignant, the critics’ consensus is that most moviegoers will leave the film with a newfound sympathy for Tonya Harding, who became a household name after the knee of her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was smashed with a baton leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics season.
Expect I, Tonya — in theaters today, Dec. 8 — to receive serious awards buzz.
Here’s what critics are saying about I, Tonya:
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called I, Tonya “the film we need right now”:
[W]atching these National Enquirer fugitives mix it up in a rush of sleazoid slapstick will leave your head spinning. Robbie turns her features hard – and her attitude harder – to play the queen of the triple axel. She never begs for sympathy, though we give it willingly thanks to the pow of the star’s take on Harding as a woman who refuses to be a punchline. And Janney is her match, a mother whose tenderest advice to her daughter about marrying Gillooly is, “You fuck dumb, you don’t marry dumb.”
Roger Ebert gives I, Tonya 3.5 out of 4 stars:
Not only will it make you think about Tonya Harding again, it will make you do so with unexpected sympathy. It will make you feel for her, deeply, for the abuse and pain she’s suffered for so much of her life. Director Craig Gillespiepulls off what would seem to be an impossible high-wire act: He’s made a movie that’s affectionately mocking—of this theatrical sport, of the idiots who surrounded Harding, of this hideous moment in fashion and pop culture—without actually mocking Harding herself.
Manohla Dargis’s review for The New York Times takes umbrage with the film taking a comedic route:
As “I, Tonya” skips here and there and thickens the plot, it becomes increasingly baffling why the filmmakers decided to put a comic spin on this pathetic, dispiriting story. No matter how hard the movie tries to coax out laughs, there’s little about Ms. Harding, her circumstances or her choices that skews as funny. She was poor, grew up in trailers, had a temper, liked loud colors, dropped out of school, traded in one abuser for another and maintained some stupid acquaintances — a clown posse the filmmakers lavish too much time on. She might have played a role in the attack on Ms. Kerrigan, but in many ways Ms. Harding had already been found guilty for just being who she was. The same feels true here.
Leah Greenblatt for Entertainment Weekly gives I, Tonya an A-:
The skating scenes, too, are thrilling, but Robbie is the real revelation. In a performance that goes far beyond bad perms and tabloid punchlines, she’s a powerhouse: a scrappy, defiant subversion of the American dream. You won’t just find yourself rooting for this crazy kid; you might even fall a little bit in love.
For Collider, Matt Goldberg calls I, Tonya “painfully funny and tragic”:
Gillespie’s approach can be a bit jarring at times as he unflinchingly shows the physical and mental abuse Harding suffers, but he never wants her to be seen as the victim or turn the story into a PSA. His solution is to over-rely on needledrops and breaking the fourth wall, turning the abuse into something oddly quirky despite never draining it of any of its impact. It’s not that the movie is ever trying to make light of the abuse Harding suffered, but rather that it simply became part and parcel in the growing absurdity of her life. Harding, embittered but never defeated, continues to strive for the things she’ll never get. Her mother will never protect her, her husband will never love her, and the skating community will never respect her, but she keeps trying anyway.