TONYA contains not one, but several, unreliable narrators lead by Tonya herself (Margo Robbie), her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and Tonya's estranged mom LaVona (Allison Janney). The movie is framed with faux interviews with them (and others) - often speaking straight to the camera (a convention which also occurs within scenes in the movie). But, make no mistake, Gillespie and Screenwriter Steve Rogers very much favor Tonya's POV here. It's her slant on the story that takes center ice.
The movie works as well as it does because of the cast and the lure of the lurid true story. Robbie looks nothing like Harding despite hours of makeup (this is made clear when we see clips of the real Harding), but, she enthusiastically takes on the role, giving it a grit and energy that keeps the movie on balance despite some significant bumps along the way. Stan and Paul Walter Hauser (as Gilooly's henchman Shawn Eckhardt) are also fine. More problematic is Janney's LaVona. Janney is a superb actress, but, here she is so over the top that she verges on being a cartoon (unsurprisingly, the real LaVona Golden wasn't interviewed by the filmmakers, so it is little wonder than she comes off the worst of the major characters).
The contrivance of an unreliable narrator isn't a bad concept, but, too often I, TONYA ends up feeling unreliable itself. Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) is very much shunted to the background (and only utters one word, "Why!??"). To believe I, TONYA you'd think that Kerrigan was some rich Ice Queen in contast to the working class Harding. The truth is that Kerrigan's family was also working class (the Dad working three jobs to pay for her training). It's understood that the movie is from Harding's perspective, but, at a certain point, you have to wonder about the movie's overall authenticity. Matters aren't helped by a certain reluctance on the part of the filmmakers to have dramatic scenes play out. There is some very nasty physical and sexual abuse on display, but, they are often undercut with a wink, a retro song (often not very good selections) or a quip directly at the camera. It's as if the filmmakers are saying to the viewer, "Yes, some bad stuff happened, but, hey, here's a funny aside - you're still having fun and enjoying the movie, ain't ya?!" And, some of the mugging for the camera makes it seem like the cast is auditioning for an off-Broadway production of an early Coen Brothers film.
Despite some major qualms, I, TONYA refreshingly breaks the mold of a Bio-Pic. It's simply too bad that the filmmakers couldn't find a consistent and more thoughtful tone.