I, Tonya is a bleakly funny biopic of the prodigiously gifted redneck figure skater, Tonya Harding, played by actress Margot Robbie who is also one of the film’s producers.
Harding was catapulted to fame in 1991 when she became the first US figure skater to successfully land the triple axel in competition – a forward-facing jump that requires three-and-a-half rotations in the air. When you learn the base value of the triple axel is 8.5 points in competitions, compared with 3.3 points for a double axel, Harding’s achievement is even more impressive. But weirdly, even with a combination of body doubles and CGI – the big moment when it comes, feels oddly anti-climactic.
The film’s mockumentary style provides a running commentary from characters who repeatedly break the fourth wall to explain what’s happening, and charts Harding’s rise and calamitous fall, with the emphasis on the fall.
Whilst the troubled skater, who did her routines to ZZ Top, wore electric blue nail polish and sucked on cigarettes before big competitions, was sometimes her own worst enemy – it didn’t capture the extent to which she could out-skate almost everyone. Including her arch-rival for Olympic glory, and the victim of the knee-capping, Nancy Kerrigan.
This has the effect of giving it a dumbed-down treatment of a sad and sordid story and virtually ensures that everything else other than what she did on the ice is what she’s remembered for.
That aside, Robbie approaches the role of Harding seriously and ensures her fight for professional credibility has an understated dignity.
You get the sense she spent enough time with her to capture her mannerisms and attitude perfectly, and that is why this film has been nominated for three Oscars. For her sheer chutzpah through the mock interview segments, Robbie deserves to win .
Not long to wait – we will find out on 4 March.