‘I, Tonya’: Margot Robbie Dazzles as ‘White Trash’ Olympian But Allison Janney Takes the Gold

TIFF 2017: Director Craig Gillespie plays in the mud with American scandal

“And that’s the f—ing truth.” That’s the parting line from Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding in Craig Gillespie’s “I, Tonya,” a delirious, laugh-out-loud revisiting of the famous Olympic scandal, which held its world premiere in Toronto on Friday night.

In 1994, the self-labelled “redneck” figure skater was embroiled in an international incident when her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly conspired to injure Harding’s biggest competitor for Olympic gold, Nancy Kerrigan.

The fallout got Harding banned from skating for life, and became a notable skirmish at the dawn of celebrity and 24-hour news.

The source material is not necessarily the truth, as a title card told the audience up front that the film was based on “irony-free, wildly speculative interviews” with Harding and Gillooly (played empathetically by Sebastian Stan).

We meet “White Trash Tonya” at age 3, when her mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney), marches her out onto an ice skating rink (cigarette in hand) demanding the pros start training her prodigy-daughter immediately.

Janney’s abusive, profane deadpan brought the house down at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theater. True, her LaVona is uncaring, verbally and physically abusive, but she’s also somehow endearing as a diner waitress determined to “make my daughter a champ.”

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Mr. Harding bails on the women, leaving skating as Tonya’s only ticket out of her poverty-stricken childhood. Flash-forward to age 15 and Harding has fallen in love with Gillooly, who she’ll soon marry and later divorce.

Robbie then brings Tonya into her 20s, and in interview segments at age 40, which marks a long arc of transformation. Let’s be honest, who could picture the stunning Robbie as the stubby, 5-foot-1 Harding, especially later down the line? But the actress and producer pulls it off  like a triple axel (with an assist from prosthetics and body padding).

Scenes of domestic violence from Harding’s marriage are shocking, but shot swiftly with video game choreography so they don’t linger long. On top of the physical abuse, Gillooly would also architect the hit on Kerrigan (barely visible in this film, for what it’s worth) though no character in this American fable has the intelligence to pull it off.

What’s most interesting is Harding’s rise through a system that hates her: Figure skating judges balk at her use of crass rock n’ roll music for performances, her homemade costumes (as a child, Tonya makes a fur coat from rabbits she shoots with a BB gun) and her potty mouth. But she persists and wins.

The film demands audience participation by repeatedly breaking the fourth wall. Robbie brings a brand of vinegar we haven’t seen in her previous work, and it illuminates a long-forgotten trainwreck.

A postscript on screen says that Tonya now builds and restores decks in Michigan. We’ll take their word that it‘s the f—ing truth.