I, Tonya (2017)

Starring: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, Bojana Novakovic

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

So in the bleak mid worst weather ever, what could possibly lure me out of the house for almost the first time in four days? A film about ice skating, of course.

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in I,Tonya

But no ordinary film about ice skating would have me wading through ankle-deep slush for 20 minutes. This is, apparently, 'the Goodfellas of ice skating movies'. I'm in.

Although thinking about it, how many ice skating movies are there? The Bond film where Roger Moore wears a brown cardigan and is too old to sleep with the heroine? The one about the Mighty Ducks? Blades of Glory? Woah, the bar is low.

But to be fair, the height of the bar matters not one jot, as I, Tonya would triple axel over it effortlessly were it way above my head.

Ballsy, violent, distressing, deeply sad and yet also weirdly uplifting and beautiful, I, Tonya holds up a dark, distorted mirror to the American dream. Not so much breaking the fourth wall as smashing through it with a pickaxe, the film is narrated by figure skating champion Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie – splendid), interrupted and contradicted by the key figures in her life: her viscous mother LaVona (Allison Janney – superb, an Oscar well earned), coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), ex-husband Jeff Gilhooley (Sebastian Stan), and Jeff's delusional best mate Shawn (Paul Walter Hawser), who thinks he's some kind of secret agent but lives in his mom's basement. And of course the film dances dangerously round the truth of the terrible competitor knobbling scandal that ruined Harding's career. Did she collude with Jeff and Shawn to smash the knee of rival skater Nancy Kerrigan? Watch the film, dude!

Alison Janney as LaVona in I, Tonya

Dirt poor and dragged up by LaVona, Tonya has been skating since she was three. All her life she's known nothing but hard work and abuse, both mental and physical. So small surprise that she marries Jeff despite the fact that he hits her. So far so small town kitchen sink drama, except that trashy redneck Tonya, with her painted nails, frizzy perm and perpetual make-up-slathered shiner, is also America's finest figure skater – a title reluctantly bestowed after she becomes the first woman to land a notoriously difficult triple axel jump in a competition, after continuously giving the finger to the sport's prissy princessy image with her rock routines and cheap costumes.

But her wrong side of the track roots prove her undoing in the end, when Jeff and Shawn come up with the cunning plan of messing with Kerrigan.

Sebastian Stan and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya

Now cunning plan makes Jeff and Shawn sound as if they're as smart as Baldrick (an infamously stupid sidekick for those of you under 40). But this would be doing the hapless Baldrick a disservice, for Jeff and Shawn take stupidy stupidy stupidy to untold levels. And before you can say 'turnip', Tonya's dreams of Olympic glory are shattered.

Who's to blame here? LaVona, for raising her daughter to feel that she was utterly worthless yet capable of world superstardom? Jeff, for trying to help and getting it so badly wrong? Tonya, for constantly spitting in the faces of those who want to help her? Or the American dream, for making poor, ill-educated people believe that, with hard work and heart, anyone can do anything – and then crushing them to smithereens when they don't dress right, talk right or have the right relatives?

With its relentless, Scorsese-style commentary soundtrack of '80s AOR hits, I, Tonya is the most American film you've ever seen, a text book tale of triumph over abuse and adversity, and yet, with its crash-land ending, it's also searingly critical of the American Way.

But, lest that make it sound a bit dull, I should also add that it's gripping, exulting (the triple axel moment is simply wonderful) and enormously entertaining, with great performances all round (vignettes as the titles roll showing the real protagonists show how scarily accurate the portrayals are). Maybe not a perfect score (I felt it dragged a little, of all places, around the knee incident) but darned close.

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