Review / ‘I, Tonya’ (MA) ****

ANYBODY pursuing an obsession since age three and who by age 16 was sixth in the US, rising to national champion by age 19 and a leading international competitor before turning 21, is entitled to feel successful.

But growing up in a dysfunctional working-class, fatherless family under a domineering mother doesn’t offer many opportunities to acquire good life skills.

Tonya Harding’s passion was ice skating. She was very good at it, with Olympic ambitions. Off the rink, she had few other skills. Her early adult years unfolded between that rock and this hard place.

In 1994, a crony of Tonya’s manipulative husband Jeff employed a thug to take a baseball bat to the knee of US Women’s Figure Skating Champion Nancy Kerrigan to stop her competing at the Winter Olympics.

Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers have used that as the core of a movie that now finds the women playing its two principal female characters in that group to which every movie industry person aspires – Academy Award nominees.

For Best Leading Actress, playing Tonya, Margot Robbie shows impressive acting chops as well as ice-skating talent. Tonya was the first woman to execute a triple axel, followed by a double toe loop! It looks scary, even with CG augmentation.

For Best Supporting Actress, abusing Tonya when not pushing her to train harder, hand sewing her costumes, is the mother from hell. Playing a woman to be avoided except that you can’t, a gutter-mouthed chain smoker more prickly than any cactus, more abrasive than a gravel heap, Allison Janney’s virtuoso portrayal of LaVona is an acme for nastiness that’s great fun to watch.

“I, Tonya” is populated by people of low vocabulary behaving badly as a natural part of life. Its losers and dumbos generate hilarious comedy especially when they are being serious. Its examination of events and their reasons that the media avoided while Tonya was hot news is very entertaining.

At all cinemas

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