The fearlessly authentic and highly captivating biopic ‘I, Tonya,’ stands out from the many mainstream biopics that attempt to convey the black and white truth through a limited perspective. Director Craig Gillespie, however, artistically chooses to assess the controversial story behind famous Olympic ice skater Tonya Harding through multiple perspectives, whilst breaking the fourth wall and using black humour to engage and often unsettle its audience. Although the film has a tendency to sympathise with Tonya Harding, manipulating the storyline so that the audience too understands and pities the infamous ice skaters’ circumstance, Gillespie does not shy away from the true nature of her character. Gillespie paints Harding as misunderstood and misinterpreted by the media without losing sight of her negative qualities and characteristics. Through this directorial choice, the audience is positioned to realise and comprehend the unfiltered experiences endured in Harding’s childhood, subsequently influencing the person that she became.
The film may be bias when it comes to sympathy, yet it does not blatantly state the truth surrounding the films prominent and controversial event. Instead, Gillespie views the perspectives of various characters who share their thoughts respectively through interview cuts. It is this technique that creates levels of shade and ambiguity as the storytellers share moments where their perception and evaluation appears to be somewhat unreliable. Margot Robbie’s gutsy portrayal of Tonya Harding is phenomenal. This character is immeasurably different to previous characters that Robbie has played as she truly transforms, bringing with her a nuanced complexity to every scene. The film is hard to categorise which is what makes it all the more engaging.
‘I, Tonya’ is a biopic that infuses drama and black comedy to raise serious issues that remain prevalent in today’s society such as domestic abuse. Gillespie takes a risk when adding comedy to the pot, however he stirs it up perfectly. There is a highly entertaining balance between the comedic scenes such as the Coen Brother’s inspired criminals whose behaviour undermines their mastermind plans and the gruelling scenes of emotional and physical abuse between Tonya and both her mother and husband. It is easy to go wrong with this approach, yet both ‘I, Tonya’ and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ successfully address taboo topics and issues through the genre and style of black comedy. Craig Gillespie’s ‘I, Tonya’ is a must-see film that explores the individual and society, blurring appearance and reality, comedy and drama in order to tell the story of a strong-minded and unfiltered woman who has paid the price for others misunderstandings and actions.