Although 2016 is still young we already have our third Olympics-themed movie. But unlike Race or Eddie The Eagle, the subversively funny new comedy The Bronze is not based on real events — thank God. Picked up at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival by Relativity (but now, due to that company’s financial woes, it is being released by Sony Pictures Classics) this satirical story focuses not on gold-medal triumphs but rather on coming in third — and never letting anyone forget it.
Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory) stars (and co-wrote the film with husband Winston Rauch) as Hope Ann Gregory, a former gymnast who made her own brand of history a decade earlier when she helped Team USA score the bronze, even while performing her routine with a ruptured Achilles. Cut to 10 years later and she is still dining out on that bit of minor celebrity and 15 minutes of fame in her all-American hometown of Amherst, Ohio, where she is still pretty hot stuff — at least compared to other townsfolk. She still lives in the basement of the home of her Dad (Gary Cole) and wears her Olympics jumpsuit while always re-watching her moment of triumph on a well-worn VHS tape. As any celeb worth their salt, she also hits the local mall expecting freebies just for showing up. Clearly she has honed this game to a science and is comfortable in her own sneakers. However, when she is forced to help train Maggie, a new and very promising Olympic hopeful, Hope’s status as the city’s only celebrity could be threatened. Does she do her job or try to sabotage the young woman’s dreams?
As I say in my video review above, this is the kind of broad but smart small-town character study that made films like Smile and Election so dead-on funny and, in their own way, truthful. Hope is a kind of pathetic character who dwells on one shining moment and lets the rest of life pass her by. As played by Rauch she is unapologetic and somewhat scheming, not a terribly sympathetic person for an audience to hang its hat on. In that way this clever slice-of-life comedy takes risks, but ultimately we do have some empathy for her, especially when she starts to take her new training gig seriously.
Rauch, making unique vocal choices, is a total hoot in the role, owning it from first frame to last while thankfully keeping it from drifting into one-dimensional sketch territory. The supporting cast serves her well with Cole, very fine as usual as her understanding and frustrated Dad; Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) as a nice guy and love interest she can’t seem to appreciate; Haley Lu Richardson as the aspiring gymnast ready to do an All About Eve number on her; and a very funny Sebastian Stan as Lance, a slick and conceited former two-time Olympic champ who has a “past” with Hope and now aims to move in on Maggie for his own purposes. (A gymnastic sex scene between Hope and Lance could be a XXX-rated Olympic event itself.)
Director Bryan Buckley navigates all of this nicely, never letting it go too far over the top. Mark and Jay Duplass’ Duplass Brothers Productions was the production company, with Stephanie Langhoff serving as producer.
Do you plan to see The Bronze? Let us know what you think.