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Movie review: I, Tonya

I, Tonya is based on the true story of disgraced US figure skater Tonya Harding and her involvement in an assault on rival Nancy Kerrigan in the 1990s. The film renders this stranger-than-fiction narrative into a blackly comedic tale, led by an incredible performance from Margot Robbie as loud-mouthed fashion victim Harding, whose talent and grace on the skate rink are marred by a childhood of neglect and violence.

Robbie manages to make Harding at once unlikable and sympathetic, her outward appearance of aggression and dowdiness in competition giving way to a vulnerability in scenes with her sardonic mother LaVona (Alison Janney) and boneheaded husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan). Janney is a standout and natural Oscar winner as LaVona, who believes in negative reinforcement as the key to success, and who manages to make an utter lack of empathy for her daughter into a series of surprisingly hilarious scene-stealing moments.

The slightly cliched mockumentary style of the film may not be to everyone's tastes, and neither its glossing over of the part the real-life Harding played in an unprovoked act of violence on an innocent opponent. Strong lead performances from its stars, however, add unexpected notes of both poignancy and humor that lift this film above the average biopic fare.