I, TONYA is a Robbie Janney Triumph

It was such an incredible honour to attend the Australian premiere of I, TONYA last week in Sydney. Watching the movie with director David Gillespie (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL), Margot Robbie, and her family was out of control awesome. To watch Margot give the performance of her life while she watched on is one of those movie memories I will hang on to. Seeing her play the infamous character of Tonya Harding holds more meaning as I can remember the actual incident taking place in the 90s as clear as day – it was one of the first serious international media frenzies that I can remember. Discovering that the Editing, Margot, and Allison Janney earned Oscar nominations overnight (following the screening) was icing on top. I, TONYA is out now from Roadshow Films, it runs for 120mins and is rated MA15+.


I, TONYA - Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan image
Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan



I remember living through the media frenzy of this sporting assault back in the 90s. Tonya Harding was a redneck figure skater with a lot of promise and a lot of awards, but little in the image of what America wanted as a figure skating representative. Nancy Kerrigan was a more refined princess of the ice coming through the ranks. Everything was at both their feet until Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly, f**ked up. The rest, they say, is history. But there is a lot more to this story than that defining incident. This is the story of Harding and her life of abuse by her mother, her husband, the ice skating world and the press. Is she without blame? Of course not, but she is definitely one who copped the raw end of the deal more times than she was due.


I, TONYA - Allison Janney image
Allison Janney


“Based on irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly.” – the opening of the movie.

The style Gillespie takes in telling this story is marvellous, it’s like those bad times in your life that you can now look back on and laugh. It’s a mix of flashbacks, flash-forwards, interviews, live action and eventually some real footage. It is black comedy at it’s darkest and told with so much tongue in cheek that at times you may find some harrowing scenes hilarious. There are a lot of characters in this movie and they are all mostly a-grade idiots that bumble there way through everything.

This is Harding’s story and you are “mostly” viewing her perspective, she may not be the smartest and she is never sugar coated but you will feel for her. All she wanted was to skate and mostly everyone and everything got in her way, half the time she ran towards trouble. She is a lesson in overcoming hurdles. Harding was one of the greatest in the world but it came with endless struggles and a horrible life that she kept running back to. She never apologises for it in the movie because it was what it was.

Factually the movie is about 75% accurate – the story is so “Soderbergh” crazy that Robbie didn’t even think it was a true story when she read it. You have to be aware that the movie is based on meshing everyone’s accounts. None of them are the same but a lot of moments were confirmed by someone else. It truly adds to the insanity of the movie. Harding and her ex, Gilooly’s, stories contradict each other every single step of the way. If you want a fact comparison of reality and the movie check out this fantastic post HERE.


The first downside of the movie, it’s about 15-20min too long. The middle really lulled into the abuse from Gillooly, when it eventually gets to the “incident” Robbie turns to the camera in an “interview” with “well this is what you’re here for.” It was like the opening of a new act. And when this happens Robbie enters another level of acting. The last thirty minutes of the movie slapped me out of the lull and presented an Oscar worthy performance. Seeing the demise of Harding really had me feeling for her. There is one scene where she puts on make-up before competing, it reminded me of Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN. The rest that followed was as good as Portman’s performance.

Sadly I couldn’t buy the age difference, Robbie as a teenager was nearly laughable. Perhaps an in-between actress from child to adult would have been better. And while I could buy it and let it slide, the digital face swapping for some of the ice-skating was less than perfect but acceptable, I really couldn’t see Robbie learning to skate to Olympic level for the movie.


I, TONYA - Margot Robbie image
Margot Robbie



If it wasn’t for Robbie and Janney I, TONYA wouldn’t have been half as good. Robbie is a sensation, she truly gives it her all. Ever since she revealed her talents in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET she has gone from strength to strength and with every performance she just gets better and better. I, TONYA will solidify her standings on the international stage and while I don’t think she will win the Oscar she does deserve one.

Janney on the other hand has the Oscar in the bag. She has been a Hollywood love affair ever since THE WEST WING and every single scene she is in for I, TONYA is award winning. I haven’t seen someone have a parrot as their onscreen partner before but even those scenes are just gold and the language out of her mouth is constant comic relief. But you also have to remember, in real life, this woman is/ was a monster to Tonya. The delivery of the movie just makes her more entertaining.

The supporting cast is impressive but sadly all of them, including Sebastian Stan, are outshone by the two leading ladies. Special mention to Paul Walter Hauser however, his Shawn seriously needs his own television show. That character, scarily also a real person, was pure comedic gold!


I, TONYA - Margot Robbie image
Margot Robbie



I, TONYA is a remarkable recreation of the Tonya Harding story. See this for the sublime performances from Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. While not without fault this dark comedic sport biopic tale of abuse, figure skating, hilarious idiocy, and one unlucky girl is well worth the price of a cinema ticket.





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.