20 years ago at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, a hobbled Kerri Strug pulled off a nearly impossible move to secure the gold medal for the United States Gymnastics Team. The image of the wounded Strug being carried off by her coach Béla Károlyi became iconic. That distant moment serves as the inspiration for The Bronze, a comedy to come out of last year’s Sundance Film Festival about a foul-mouthed and selfish gymnast who pulled off a similar feat only to be mired in a rut and stuck in the quaint hometown that worships her. Even though The Bronze is intended to be a raunchy comedy, it lacks grace in its movements, testing the patience and resolve of its audience while it fails to stick the landing or anything else.
Melissa Rauch stars as Hope Annabelle Greggory, the Olympic hero of yesteryear. She’s in a perpetual state of arrested development, starting her day off by snorting meds and stealing mail from her father Stan (Gary Cole), a laid back mailman who has enabled his daughter’s descent into pure solipsism. Her trademark look is defined by her fleeting moment of glory, constantly wearing the training suit from a decade ago while maintaining her hair just as it was on that triumphant day. When her former coach kills herself, Hope receives a letter promising her the sum of $500,000 dollars to continue coaching the next big thing in the world of gymnastics, Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson). But Hope’s fears of being supplanted as the golden child of Amherst, Ohio motivates her to sabotage the young athlete. Only after former lover and current coach of the US team, Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan), threatens to make Maggie his protégé does Hope begin to coach in earnest. Along the way she strikes up a relationship with the awkward son of the hometown gym’s owner, Ben Lawfort (Thomas Middleditch). Despite her best efforts, Hope’s fears and ego may sabotage the future of an up and coming star, as well as her ability to move on with her life.
There’s plenty of room for comedy in The Bronze, yet the screenplay co-written by Melissa Rauch and Winston Rauch fails to find much humor in anything aside from the high-pitched voice of a gymnast saying variations of “fuck” at inopportune moments or exclamations of crude sexuality. Hope is a character that has never grown and we don’t really see grow throughout the film’s hour and fifty-minute running time. She just floats on by treating people abhorrently with impunity. It’d be much more fascinating if there were some attempt to explain how this town has tolerated her for a decade following her stunning achievement. Instead, we just see Hope and Ben strike up a relationship because the film felt it needed a romantic element, but it’s quite unfathomable why this mild-mannered man, who is saving himself for marriage, would even be attracted to such a repulsive character.
A film is under no obligation to have a likeable character, nor is it necessary for the film to punish its reprehensible characters. That being said, The Bronze falters because it mistakes profanity for being edgy. It’s a film with characters that have no depth beyond the surface, where people don’t operate like humans as much as a function of plot. The film takes too long to introduce anything resembling conflict into Hope’s selfish life and hurriedly resolves the conflict with a happy little ending. This is a film that’s not nearly as dark and twisted as it thinks itself to be. Even an inspired sex scene between two gymnasts fails to resonate, coming too late in the film and its narrative results are painfully obvious.
Veteran director of television ads, Bryan Buckley makes his underwhelming directorial debut with The Bronze. The framing and lens choices that Buckley employs are quite baffling, sometimes framing mundane scenes with wide angle lenses. The film’s editing also leaves much to be desired, with its pacing being lethargic in the wrong moments and blisteringly fast when it needs time to breathe. Buckley also shows a predilection towards the use of montages, including a particularly grating montage of Hope and Maggie indulging in various forms of greasy fast food.
The Bronze is a film that fails to make it past the qualifying round. It has a nice concept that is never brought to its full potential. Melissa Rauch does a good enough job as the vulgar gymnast, but her own script doesn’t allow the character to flourish. The reality is there’s a lot of talent that doesn’t come to fruition in The Bronze. Maybe another project will bring the gold for Rauch and director Bryan Buckley. For now, The Bronze doesn’t medal.