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I, Tonya by Peter Nashel (Review)

posted Dec 19, 2017, 12:51 PM by Kaya Savas

I, Tonya is a really unique and stylish take on the biopic formula that succeeds on the backs of the actors in the film. Biopics are already a hard place for original score to shine because it’s really the performance that draws in the audience, and in this case Margot Robbie steals the spotlight. Now toss in the fact that I, Tonya is heavily saturated with licensed songs. So how much room did composer Peter Nashel have to work with, and was the score a success?

To be very honest, I’m surprised Nashel was able to get a soundtrack release with his name on the cover because the album released by Milan Records only has 3 tracks of score totaling 10-minutes. And that is probably the complete score right there, because this film is truly scored by songs. So the question is, what purpose did the original music serve and what purpose did the song selections serve?

The songs are a huge part of the narrative, and throughout the film you’ll be circling through some great hits. The songs actually make the film feel older than it is, because it’s a pretty heavy selection of 70’s and 80’s hits. You can easily forget that this story took place in 1994 because our brains are trained to associate a film’s time period with the songs being used. I thought it was a clever play on that since the film itself is all about contradictions and rule-breaking. The film breaks the fourth wall often and the whole structure has a rebellious feel.

The score doesn’t make its first appearance till well into the film, and when it does it’s actually quite noticeable in a good way. The main purpose of this score is really to give the story some grounding in the second and third act. The score becomes a necessary tool during the scene where the attack on Nancy Kerrigan takes place. The music becomes more of an editing device to structure the pace and tone of certain carefully selected scenes. Within that framing, the score is actually successful. I think it was necessary for those scenes to have score rather than another song, and Nashel’s tone was essential in making those moments work. Stylistically one could say the score sounds like a Carter Burwell / Phillip Glass mashup, but I think it does just enough to make establish a unique voice.

I, Tonya doesn’t have a robust and fleshed out narrative within the music, it's not that type of score. The movie relies on songs pretty much from start to finish, only requiring score for a handful of integral scenes. The music adds the dramatic weight and establishes the tone quite successfully for what little real estate it has within the film. For me, personally I would have either gone with a scoreless film, or a fully scored film but the story relies so heavily on performance that score was never going to have the spotlight. I, Tonya’s score does the job with its short runtime and it totally works within the framework of the film even if it doesn’t really stand out.