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I, Tonya (2017)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/13/2018

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/26/2018

Biopics and movies based on true stories seem to be everywhere these days, and we certainly talk about a lot of them here. Looking over a list of most of these movies, the subject matter deals with things from the semi-distant to the distant past, such as Trumbo, Genius, or Selma. For many viewers, these films deal with events that they may have heard of, but because they didn’t live through it, the films may not have the same impact. Movies which focus on more recent stories, like Snowden or Sully can mean more to younger viewers. But, when a movie tackles something which captured the zeitgeist, like The People v. O.J. Simpson, you’re talking about a different animal altogether. When you feel as if you lived something, as it was dominating the headlines as the time, it can certainly affect how you receive it. Another great example of this is I, Tonya.

From a young age, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), showed a knack for skating, and despite the hardship it caused her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), she devoted her life to it. By the time that she was 15, Tonya was doing well in competitions, although her “unique” approach to the sport didn’t impress the judges. Still, her coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) stuck by her. Tonya’s life changed when she started dating Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Although Jeff was abusive, she loved the fact that he actually paid attention to her. While with him, the quality of her skating went up and down, but she did win the U.S. Championships and made her way to the Olympics. However, Jeff wanted to ensure that Tonya would win, even if that meant making arrangements to injure one of her rivals.

Again, I was alive and kicking in 1994, so I remember the entire Tonya Harding scandal very well. And, I'm not ashamed to say that back then, I sided with Tonya, given the rags to...better rags? story which made its way into the press. Therefore, as noted above, having "been there" affected the way that I viewed the story. But, I quickly realized that I didn't know the entire story. I, Tonya, which is told from Harding's point-of-view and lays out the facts as she remembers them, doesn't pull any punches as it outlines the verbal abuse which she suffered at the hands of her mother and the physical abuse which came from Gillooly. It also illustrates what Harding's life was like away from the ice, as she and Gillooly struggled to make ends meet and she didn't always take care of herself as an athlete should.

These revelations and the more public story are brought to us in a creative way via the screenplay by Steven Rogers and under the direction of Craig Gillespie. The majority of the action takes place in the past, but we do get modern-day comments from the actors portraying Harding, Gillooly, LaVona, and Rawlinson. These confessionals serve to ground the film and while we're seeing the actors, it helps to remind us that we are watching the story of real people. Gillespie also does a great job of shooting the skating sequences. Given that millions watch figure skating during the Olympics, finding a new way to shoot these scenes was most likely a challenge and the movie handles this well.

One can't discuss I, Tonya without talking about the acting. Keeping in mind that Robbie looks nothing like Harding (and that Robbie is five inches taller), she tackles the role with aplomb, never shying away from Harding's rough & tumble approach to life. Janney does look like her real-life counterpart and she too leaves any reservations at the door and tears into her role. Stan feels miscast here. He's not bad, but the real Gillooly comes across as sleazy and Stan never reaches that point. The real revelation here is Paul Walter Hauser who steals the show as the delusional Shawn Eckhart.

If nothing else, I, Tonya should serve as a reminder that beyond all of the scandals, Tonya Harding was once actually one of the best skaters in the world. The movie serves as a cautionary tale of things which can derail success while also showing some people simply cannot escape their backgrounds or upbringing. At its core, this is a very depressing story, but the film manages to pepper in some much needed levity (again, with a lot of it coming from Eckhart in the third act). The movie allows Janney to shine once again and shows that Robbie isn't afraid to be more than just a pretty face. I can't say what the film will be like for those who don't know the story, but for me, it was suddenly 24 years ago.

I, Tonya really did skate to a ZZ Top song on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 32 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source materials. However, there is some very mild grain visible at times, as the movie was actually shot on film. The colors look very good -- we get a lot of pastels here -- and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good and the depth works well, most notably in the skating sequences. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track does a great job of highlighting the crowd noises during the skating events and the applause fills the rear speakers. Some of the music used during these scenes brings in the subwoofer. There is also a nice use of off-screen sound effects, which come through the front and rear channels.

The I, Tonya Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Craig Gillespie. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 17 minutes. These are new scenes, but they don't offer any new characters or subplots. They do, however, give us more Eckhart. "All Sixes: The Perfect Performances of I, Tonya" (4 minutes) takes a brief look at the characters and the actors. "Irony Free, Totally True: The Story Behind I, Tonya" (4 minutes) has the cast and filmmakers talking about the real story, but not bringing anything new to it. "Working with Director Craig Gillespie" (2 minutes) allows the actors to praise the director, who comments on why he took the project. "The Visual Effects of I, Tonya" (4 minutes) sort of shows us how Robbie's face was placed on a professional skater's face and how fake audiences were placed in the background. "VFX: Anatomy of the Triple Axel" (2 minutes) takes us through that scene, but doesn't provide any narration. The extras are rounded out by three TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long