I knew it was only a matter of time that Margot Robbie would receive her first Oscar nomination since her breakthrough in The Wolf of Wall Street (of which she would have deserved a nom in my books). While I haven’t seen much of her movies, I always find her the standout of her films, such as Suicide Squad and Wolf. She’s certainly a talented performer, with a surprisingly strong film presence that I find rare, even in some of the young stars today like JLaw and Emma Stone, both whom I like too.
In I, Tonya, Robbie plays disgraced Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding. If I were to sum up Robbie’s performance in one line, it would be this: she acted her butt off for this film. Tonya Harding, to put it simply, is a mess of a character/person. This is a character which requires a great deal of energy from the actor portraying her: Her abusive childhood, her lack of education, her “trashiness”, her agressive competitive spirit all translates into a performance that isn’t exactly subtle, but not over-the-top either. Essentially, what Robbie succeeded in is taking such an unlikeable character and making her so damn fun to watch. In a way, it’s almost like how Vivien Leigh made the bitchy Scarlett O’hara such a delight to watch. While I’m not saying that both performances are of equal calibre, what I loved about Robbie here is that she is not afraid to make Harding unlikeable. She tends to have a mean streak and is unbelievably nasty to her coach, but Robbie justifies these acting choices, allowing us to see why Harding behaves this way. Figure skating is essentially her life, and I loved how Robbie showed the “all-or-nothing” spirit in Harding.
The downwards spiral of Harding is also excellently played, even though the focus isn’t that much on Harding but rather on her husband (played excellently by Sebastian Stan). As always, there are a few crying scenes here and there, but it comes extremely naturally and never feels forced or tacked on. I mean, who can forget that moment as she forces herself to smile while putting on makeup? I wouldn’t say it’s heartbreaking because I find Tonya a difficult character to feel sorry for but I found myself completely understanding how she was feeling. However, her final plea to the judge where she describes skating as her entire life was extremely saddening thanks to the desperation portrayed by Robbie.
Personally, her relationships with the other characters aren’t too complex as they are essentially abusive and violent, but the energy brought out by the actors made them extremely intense and electrifying to watch.
Overall, this is a terrific performance by a talented actress which, in my opinion, would have made a worthy win (I still love Frances McDormand’s performance of course). I think what made it work was the way Robbie actually had fun with the character while at the same time respecting her and portraying her motivations to perfection. The resulting effect is a performance that is chaotic, messy, crazy, and yet highly entertaining and saddening to watch. 5/5.
p.s. Allison Janney was great, but I found her performance a bit limited, both in screentime and layers. I’ll give her credit though – she does manage to find some depth in certain scenes, such as when she describes her abuse of Tonya as a “sacrifice” a mother makes. It is a very good performance, and Janney is such a terrific actress that I cannot begrudge her Oscar win. That being said, I’m still more in the Lesley Manville camp though.