(CNN) “I, Tonya” announces up front that it’s predicated on “irony free of charge, wildly contradictory” interviews with the individuals, yielding a darkly satiric comedy with the tenor of a Coen brothers motion picture. Elevated by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney’s shimmering performances, this entertaining profile of those strange events earns the type of great marks for innovative interpretation that its protagonist complained eluded her.
That protagonist, of course, is Tonya Harding, the number skater etched in to the public awareness by her association with among the strangest modern scandals — namely, her partner Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) taking part in a plot to kneecap her principal rival, Nancy Kerrigan, just before the 1994 Olympics.
The movie, on the other hand — directed by Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”), and drawn by screenwriter Steven Rogers in part from his interviews with Harding and Gillooly — goes well beyond “The Incident,” as its principals call it, to concentrate on Harding’s abusive, hardscrabble upbringing, segueing from life with her abusive mom LaVona (Janney) to her abusive boyfriend-then-husband Gillooly.
Featuring the people in direct-to-camera interviews, a strong undercurrent to the film is usually that Harding’s downfall preceded several others of the tabloid-friendly 1990s, so much to ensure that a “Hard Duplicate” reporter (played simply by Bobby Cannavale) is one of the witnesses, wryly noting that the display was dismissed because trash by a media ecosystem that later mastered copying its sordid bag of tricks.
Janney pretty practically steals the show seeing that Tonya’s foul-mouthed, chain-smoking mom, who have constantly gripes about how she’s squandering her limited assets on skating lessons and training for a woman, she’s told, who “sticks out because she looks like she chops hardwood every morning.”