One of the hottest acquisition titles at this year's Toronto International Film Festival is I, Tonya, a movie about one of the major tabloid personalities of the 1990s — figure skater Tonya Harding — that had its first public screenings at the fest on Friday and Saturday. (I caught the latter.) And while a distribution deal for the film has not yet been reached, three is a consensus that whoever does acquire it will have a very good shot at landing at least one acting Oscar nomination, and perhaps two.
Craig Gillespie's dramedy seems to have been inspired by GoodFellas in how it employs tongue-in-cheek reflections on the past. It is structured like a documentary comprised of interviews with Harding, played by Margot Robbie, and her inner circle, with frequent "flashbacks" to the actual events being discussed. And while Harding certainly is a colorful and complex character, as played by Robbie (who somehow is made to look convincingly like an extraordinary figure skater), the character who steals every scene in which she appears, past or present, is Harding's outrageously vulgar mother, who is both hilarious and scary as played by the great character actress Allison Janney (stay for the end-credits to see just how much Janney nails her subject).
In dredging up Harding's old and not especially important story, I'm not sure what the filmmakers were looking to say or accomplish, except, perhaps, to provide Robbie with a role in which she could show that she's more than just a pretty face. Perhaps, the filmmakers would argue, they're criticizing our tabloid culture or highlighting domestic abuse or something else along those lines — although that feels a bit disingenuous.
Regardless, in the hands of a competent distributor, Robbie could well land a best actress nomination — she wouldn't be the first beautiful actress to "de-glam" and/or produce her own project and get recognized for doing so (see: Charlize Theron and 2003's Monster). As for Janney, she seems to me like a slam-dunk for a best supporting actress nom — which would be her first-ever Academy recognition, and hugely deserved.