Robbie makes the notorious Tonya Harding relatable in 'I, Tonya' (MOVIE REVIEW)

Phil on Film

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - "I, Tonya" proves that Margot Robbie is more than just a flavor of the week.

The Aussie actress became a star last year when she was a cartwheeling, death-dealing force of nature as Harley Quinn in "Suicide Squad." She tackles a much more difficult task this time out, in her bid for a best actress Oscar nomination as the figure skater known for ordering a thug to bash the knee of competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Robbie, with help from director Craig Gillespie, somehow manages to transform Tonya Harding from a trashy tabloid sideshow to a relatable iconoclast who overcame buried struggles -- such as physical abuse, ostracism from the skating community and alocholism -- to vault to success, and maybe wasn't as culpable for the Kerrigan hit as common wisdom has insisted.

Gillespie's film is more than a whitewashed biopic, leaning heavily on dark humor. He's not out to make Harding into a saint. The film mocks the skater as much as it praises her, but the film never drifts into cruel, hit-job territory, much due to Robbie's ability to keep the character grounded and sympathetic.

Another key to success at that tough task is Allison Janney, who plays Harding's mother, LaVona Fay Golden, as an overbearing, tough-love distributing tyrant. As responsible for fueling Harding's drive as she is for planting the seeds for her insecurities and self-loathing, she is a combination of Anthony Perkins' mother from "Psycho" and LaVar Ball. The mother-daughter conversations form the emotional core of the complex film. 

Sebastian Stan adds to the stellar cast as Harding emotionally unstable, rampantly abusive husband. It's painful to watch their codependent, destructive relationship flower and crumble, hurling Harding toward her inevitable fate.

In replicating the tough, trying life of its subject, "I, Tonya" leaves you as dizzy as a triple axel. And your heart hurts as much as your knee does. 

RATING: 3 stars out of 4.

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