They want someone to love. But they also want someone to hate.
A couple outstanding classics aside, I’m not a big fan of biopics. I find that subgenre to frequently be unfairly manipulative, using the guise of “true events” to amplify drama while stretching the truth of these events. At worst it feels like these films are made to deify their protagonists, instead of delving into their complexities. The interesting flaws and wrinkles of these multifaceted figures are ironed into simplified caricatures for the purpose of delivering a sanitized and easily digestible story.
I find the biopics that I end up liking are almost always the ones that are about tragically flawed people, people represent the tremendous cost of greatness. I,Tonya can be counted among those pictures, painting one of the most controversial figures in American sports history with a profoundly empathetic brush.
It may be emotionally exploitive in the way that many biopics are, but the mockumentary interludes constantly remind us that the story we are being told probably isn’t the objective truth. Instead what we’re seeing is mostly Tonya’s side of the story, a story that if completely true, is utterly agonizing in its consistent barrage of unfortunate turns. From Tanya’s abusive childhood, to her abusive husband, to her public crucifixion, we see the portrait of a person who dedicated her entire life to her passion, but because of a variety of circumstances that were sometimes in her control and sometimes out of it, ended up with a tarnished legacy.
Through it’s striking skating scenes we’re able to see Tonya’s technical skill. Skill earned through a lifetime of sacrifice towards perfecting her craft. The beauty of the triple axel is put in full display, the athleticism, training, and faith it requires made apparent. She becomes so good that despite the rampant classism thrown her way, and despite the consistent emotional and physical abuse she endures, she is able to power her way into the world skating scene with her finely honed ability.
Through her portrayal of the titular figure, Margot Robbie further proves she’s one of the acting greats of this generation. Her range is on full display, and it’s absolutely necessary to have an actor with her versatility to capture the nuances of her love and anger. She beautifully depicts Tanya’s triumphant highs, and her crushing lows, navigating different ages and the tonal whiplash of the script beautifully.
Like all good black comedies, the film deftly navigates between it’s grim and comedic sensibilities. The brutal realities of domestic abuse are contrasted with things like the inherent absurd incompetence of the assault on Nancy Kerrigan. While some will undoubtedly be annoyed by its ostentatious sense of style, we’re treated to some truly memorable tracking shots, smash cuts, and slo-mo replays which convey the medley of emotions, and help navigate all of the tonal changes.
I, Tonya is one of those rare movies that truly posses the ability to change peoples hearts. It shows that it’s injust to judge someone else without walking in their shoes first.