Margot Robbie is superlative as “I, Tonya,” in That Movie About That Skater.
Robbie’s performance is Oscar-caliber. And so is the performance from Allison Janney, who gives an incredible portrayal of Harding’s crusty, allegedly abusive mother.
You may remember, or at least be familiar with, Harding. She became a disgraced Olympic figure skater after her involvement — and just how involved she was remains questionable to this day — with a plot in 1994 to injure her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, during a practice lesson of the figure-skating championships.
Robbie plays Harding through several decades in this film that’s constructed like a documentary but features actors in the real-life roles depicted in re-enactments and interview settings.
We first meet Harding as a little girl whose drill-sergeant mother LeVona (Janney) treats her child so harshly it’s sometimes hard to watch. LeVona knows how talented her daughter is, and will go to any lengths to ensure she has her an opportunity to achieve fame and fortune, regardless of the girl’s feelings.
The unrefined Harding may be an athlete, but she knows she doesn’t fit what judges consider to be the ideal professional skater: She’s rough, loud and temperamental. But we understand why she behaves the way she does, and how she could fall for and eventually marry a guy like Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, unrecognizable from his role as Bucky in the “Captain America” movies.)
With every set of her jaw and gleam of her eye, Robbie transforms herself into the hard-as-nails Harding. Like Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” her work here is superlative.
It’s during movies like this, with acting like this, that viewers are reminded that acting truly is a craft — it’s only through great skill and attention to fine-tuning her character’s every move that Robbie becomes Harding. Robbie gives her character the grit, determination and rage that made the real-life Harding both an American icon and pariah simultaneously.
Janney, likewise, is amazing as the tough-talking, hard-working mother who constantly berates Harding, with whom she shares both anger at, and resilience to, her lot in life. The resemblance to her real-life counterpart is incredible.
Both women could walk away with Oscars.
Director Craig Gillespie also helmed another one of my favorite, and sadly under-seen, contemporary real-life stories: “The Finest Hours.” He knows how to depict characters’ flaws to make them more sympathetic: We like them because they’re only human, so we can relate to them even when we question their decisions.
The movie opened in some theaters in 2017 to make it a contender for the 2018 awards season. Now you can see what all the well-deserved fuss is about.