While I, Tonya has little to say that's not already been said before on fame in America, there's enough paint thrown on the wall to make it a compelling film. Everyone who was alive in 1994 remembers the melodrama of Tonya and Nancy, one of the pop culture events of the decade. A mockery of the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mythology, I Tonya is kept afloat through its passionate performances.
A movie in two acts; the first is 90s pop song heavy as it traces Harding's unlikely rise in the figure skating world. She grew up, in her own words, in "white trash" rural Oregon. Her mother Lavona, played by Allison Janney in an Oscar Winning performance, encourages Tonya to skate, but treats her like garbage. A graduate from the school of tough love, she makes Mommy Dearest look like Mary Poppins. Verbal and physical abuse are recurring motifs. Tanya's husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) also mistreats her in another dysfunctional relationship. There's an almost Scorsese quality to the first part of the movie, but then I, Tonya becomes more of a conventional melodrama, a dreary tale on the fickleness of these characters and their world.
Everyone knows about the incident when someone in Harding's camp orchestrated an attack on Nancy Kerrigan's knee. Most of the last 45 minutes examines the aftermath and suggests Tonya had no knowledge of the plot. Margot Robbie provided a humanity to Harding in her performance. The skating scenes are well shot and even exciting at times. Stan plays the ultimate skeevy guy. Paul Walter Hauser provides comic relief as her dim bodyguard Shawn, a sort of poor man's Hurley from Lost.
I, Tonya succeeds at times as a satire on the American dream, but also holds back in favor of sentiment with mixed results.