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Featured Blu-ray and DVD Review: I, Tonya

March 13th, 2018

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I, Tonya

I, Tonya was a player during this most recent Awards Season earning a lot of nominations and even picked up several wins. The film will finish with $30 million domestically, which is great for a limited release. Did it deserve this success?

The Movie

I, Tonya is based on the real life events surrounding Tonya Harding, here played by Margot Robbie. The film is based on interviews with the real Tonya Harding, which, the movie admits upfront, were contradictory and not entirely trustworthy. Interestingly, both The Disaster Artist and The Greatest Showman did the same with their leading characters, in order to make them more palatable to audiences.

The film begins with clips from interviews with the cast of characters, before we flash back 40 years in the past. LaVona Harding tries to get Diane Rawlinson, a skating coach, to take on Tonya as a student. However, Tonya is only four years old and Diana doesn’t take on beginners and she certainly doesn’t take on students that young. It only takes a few moments of seeing her skate before she changes her mind. Within months, she’s beating girls three times her age in competitions. By the time she’s a preteen, her skills are impeccable, but not in the eyes of her mother, who continues to be verbally and physically abusive and this doesn’t improve when her father leaves LaVona.

When Tonya Harding is 16, she met Jeff Gilooly and the two fell in love. It is not a good relationship and Jeff is very abusive towards Tonya. It is not surprising she fell into an abusive relationship, since she was raised by an abusive mother. Her skating career is going a lot better, at least as far as her talent is concerned. She’s less conventional than other skaters and that’s resulting in lower scores, despite performing moves that other skaters just can’t complete. It isn’t until the nationals, when she breaks records, that she really gets the recognition she deserves. However, if this story had a happy ending, it wouldn’t have been made into a movie like this.

Biopics tend to be dramas. Not only is I, Tonya not a drama, it’s a black comedy, which makes it a rare specimen among the genre. This does help it stand out among its peers, but it also has some of the usual problems these movies have, namely trouble with tonal changes. You have scenes that are dramatically moving, you have scenes that are laugh out loud funny, and then you have scenes of LaVona Harding beating up her 11-year old daughter. That’s going to turn off a lot of this film’s prospective audience. This is also likely why Margot Robbie and Allison Janney earned the bulk of the Awards Season success. Going from emotional drama to, well, child abuse, is jarring, but the acting goes a long way to making that palatable. The editing is also key here, which explains why it earned several nominations for its editing as well. The acting by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney is stellar and, by themselves, they are enough to recommend the movie. Additionally, if you are a fan of figure skating, then you should be impressed with how the film portrays the sport on film.

On the other hand, fans of more traditional biopics will likely be turned off by the more cartoonish comedy moments and the non-traditional elements, like breaking the fourth wall. Additionally, the film has trouble with presenting Tonya Harding growing up poor in a balanced way. At the very least, it dances close to mocking her for being poor growing up and that’s another strike against it.

The Extras

There are not a lot of extras, but that’s common for a limited release. They start with an audio commentary track with the director, Craig Gillespie. Up next is a five-part, 16-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. Finally, there are five deleted scenes with a total running time of 17 minutes.

The Verdict

Perhaps fans of traditional biopics won’t be a fan of I, Tonya, but the acting and skating are enough that it is worth watching at least once. The DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack doesn’t have a lot of extras, but it has enough that it is worth picking up over just renting.

Filed under: Video Review, The Disaster Artist, I, Tonya, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Sebastian Stan, Craig Gillespie, Margot Robbie, Mckenna Grace
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