I’m always enamored with actors who, when they can’t find the right part, write it for themselves. That takes guts. Sylvester Stallone, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Ben Stiller, Christopher Guest, Melissa McCarthy, Lauren Miller and Lena Dunham are the gold standard. Hoping to be included in that same classification is Melissa Rauch’s THE BRONZE. Co-written with her husband Winston, the raunch-com (Rauch-com?) barely ranks in qualifying rounds, and doesn’t really deserve a participation trophy either. It’s crass, inauthentic and tonally imbalanced.
Gymnast Hope Annabelle Gregory (Rauch) was the “Angel of Amherst” Ohio until a career-ending injury befell her at the 2007 Olympics in Rome, relegating her to bronze medallist stature. In the years since, the temperamental talent has been bottoming out at her enabling father’s (Gary Cole) home, stealing mail from his mail route, emotionally blackmailing him, nursing a shopping addiction, snorting allergy medicine and tossing out curse words that would make a sailor blush. However, there’s a new local superstar on the rise, “Mighty” Megan Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), whose bubbly, positively upbeat personality and squeaky-clean threatens Hope to no end. When Hope receives a letter from her estranged and recently deceased coach offering tons of moola to train Megan for the Toronto Olympics, she selfishly sets out to finish the task – doing as little work as she possibly can in the process.
The set-up sounds blissful and I suppose in the right hands it would have been. Think GYMKATA meets BLADES OF GLORY with a YOUNG ADULT/ BAD TEACHER inspired character at the core. But as is, in director Bryan Buckley’s care, it’s an awkward, tonally inconsistent slog that seems better suited for release by the defunct Fox Atomic label than Sony Pictures Classics (who only acquired it after Relativity, who bought it at Sundance, went into financial crisis). Casting retired real-life gymnasts Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes and Olga Korbut are a desperate dash at credibility, feeling forced more than organic. If Sebastian Stan, who plays a rival US Olympics team coach (and who, for me, always suffers from face-blindness), is lucky, we’ll forget he’s even in this film.
Attempts at sweet sentiment – the romance between Hope and soft-hearted gym manager Ben “Twitchy” Lawfort (Thomas Middleditch) – are ham-handed and bungled. We are given two of the same “truth or dare” scenes essentially one right on top of each other in the middle of act two. It’s crazy – no, downright unbelievable – to think no one in the town, let alone her caring father, hasn’t kept her in line. The filmmakers commit for a large chunk of the run time to having Hope remain unapologetic and unlikable (much like Charlize Theron’s character in YOUNG ADULT), but then they bail, gifting audiences with a completely inauthentic turn. Plus, there’s an insane sex scene – a la a Zucker or Farrelly Brothers movie – that comes out of nowhere and torpedoes any good will we’ve been offering so far.
There are a few glimmers of hope (no pun intended) here; Rauch displays an impeccable knack for comedic subtleties. Whether it be how she purses her lips in anger, feathers out those crunchy Aqua Net’d bangs in determination, or flops that perfectly curled ponytail on the gym mats, Rauch’s created a character not too dissimilar from Melissa McCarthy’s work. While the material doesn’t afford her much growth, Richardson is solid as Hope’s naïve student. Middleditch is simply adorbs as a romcom love interest. He’s far too sweet and too good for her.
If THE BRONZE winds up being a warm-up routine for the Rauches, I will celebrate that. However, just like competitors in the Olympics, I’m not sure what their chances will be after they don’t stick the landing upon their dismount. As it stands, this doesn’t serve as impressive enough to be asked back.
1.5 out of 5
THE BRONZE opens on March 18.