Rude comedy/drama looks for humor in failure, but doesn’t entirely succeed
The Bronze (2015)
Directed by Bryan Buckley
Cast: Melissa Rauch
Back in 2004 Hope Ann Greggory won the heart of America when she locked down a bronze medal in gymnastics at the Summer Olympics, despite having a ruptured tendon in her ankle. Now, a decade after the fact, America’s third-place sweetheart is back in her podunk hometown, living in her father’s basement, stealing birthday cards from the US Postal Service for money, snorting chopped-up allergy medication and—how to put this delicately?—pleasuring herself to old videos of her sporting glory. She is, by all available evidence, a horrible person—a Bad Santa-level trainwreck of a human being. This foul-mouthed former Olympian is the creation of Melissa Rauch, best known for her role as Bernadette Rostenkowski on CBS’ “Big Bang Theory.” She co-wrote the film alongside husband Winston Rauch and inhabits the main character with all the gusto of a young athlete doing her utmost to impress the judges.
Our gal Hope has spent the last 10 or so years coasting on the fumes of her fame. Her folksy hometown of Amherst, Ohio, still has a sign dedicated to her on the way into town. A few stores still, somewhat begrudgingly, give her freebies. And she’s never seen in public without her red-white-and-blue Olympic warmup suit and requisite ponytail. But long after that Olympic injury sidelined her career goals, she steadfastly refuses to get a job or talk to anyone in a manner approaching civility. This puts her supportive, impossibly patient pop (Gary Cole) in a tough position. Hope has been raised by her father ever since her mother passed away when she was six months old (or “five and a half” as she likes to remind people for the sake of added sympathy). She’s had it tough in a lot of ways, so right from the get-go we’re inclined to give her a little slack for being such an entitled bitch.
Things take a turn when Hope’s estranged former coach passes away and she gets a letter promising a $500,000 payment from the coach’s estate. The money comes with a condition, of course. In order to get it, Hope must volunteer to train 16-year-old gymnast Maggie Townsend (the bubbly Haley Lu Richardson), who’s already lined up to become America’s next sweetheart. This is pretty much the last thing Hope wants to do. She sees her last shreds of local fame ready to be stolen by a younger, more talented athlete with a real shot at winning the gold. Determined to sabotage the naive girl’s dreams, Hope comes up with an unusual training regimen—one that involves lots of fast food, teenage sex and sleeping until noon. That all changes, as expected, when Hope runs into her old team rival Lance (Sebastian Stan from Captain America: The Winter Soldier), who’s teaching another gymnast and wants nothing more than to see Hope fall flat on her face.
Though it sticks closely to the raunchy roadmap laid out by Bad Santa, Bad Teacher, Bad Grandpa and various other bad movies, there’s little doubt that The Bronze is going to become a sunny-side-up tale of redemption. Hope’s bark is obviously worse than her bite, and she has a few admirable qualities hidden amid the loathsome ones (such as the quiet pride she actually has about her hometown). Where this film’s narrative is headed is never in doubt. Though her first script shows promise, humor and heart, Rauch plays it mostly safe by sticking to the formula. A touch more originality in the scripting department and The Bronze could have been a proper indie cult film along the lines of Napoleon Dynamite.
If nothing else, Rauch proves herself a game performer, milking her lovably awful character for all it’s worth. She certainly makes the case for bigger and better movie roles—above and beyond the punchline-deficient, nerd-lite environs of “The Big Bang Theory.” The Bronze has moments of explosively funny humor—almost all of them courtesy of Rauch, who could have been a little more generous in sharing the jokes with her fellow performers. But it’s in the film’s occasional moments of straight-faced seriousness that Rauch’s script works best. Hope is a well-written character, a variation on Tonya Harding’s “anything for the spotlight” antics and a rumination on America’s obsession with our Constitutionally guaranteed 15 minutes of fame. (Note: Fame not Constitutionally guaranteed.) Plus, she’s grounded in some realistic drama that makes her journey from bitter has-been to full-fledged adult very watchable.
It’s a shame then, that The Bronze doesn’t completely stick the landing. The film never quite finds a consistent tone. A rude, nude bout of gymnastic sex, for example, is undeniably funny—but the X-rated slapstick of the scene is out of whack with the rest of the film. A bit of judicious editing might have helped tighten things up. The ending when it comes, perhaps 10 minutes later than it should, is both expected and a bit underwhelming. Rauch and her compatriots should have pushed things further, making both the humor and the drama all-around darker, rougher, dirtier and more transgressive. We were rooting for a gold medal here. A silver would have been nice. But The Bronze seems happy to underachieve with third place. It still counts as a win ... but everybody knows it could have been better.