Movie Review: “The Bronze” keeps you laughing at times and rolling your eyes at others
As openings go, the one found in “The Bronze” is hard to beat.
Melissa Rauch-best known for playing the bookish Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory” – is watching VHS footage of her younger self valiantly taking the Bronze medal in gymnastics after breaking her foot. We then pull back to reveal that not only is Rauch still wearing the USA track suit she’s wearing in the 12-year-old video, she’s also masturbating feverishly to this footage.
Finished, Rauch does a few lines of, what appears to be, crushed Ritalin and steals birthday card money from her father’s (Gary Cole) mail truck. Sad, cringe-inducing but also darkly amusing, the opening sequence recalls the films of Todd Solondz or Danny McBride’s HBO series “Eastbound and Down” (something that “The Bronze” desperately wants to be). But once this sequence ends, the filmmakers have no idea where to go next. Gleefully falling head first into the clichés established by films like “Bad Santa” and “Bad Teacher,” “The Bronze’s” only true act of originality is the fact that it wasn’t called “Bad Gymnast.”
Essentially “The Bronze” is based around the premise, what if America’s late ’90s sweetheart Kerri Strug grew up to be a foul-mouthed, delusional idiot parlaying the last remnants of her fame into free sodas at the food court’s Sbarro. It’s a funny idea but it’s an idea that isn’t developed beyond the opening credits which finds Rauch’s Hope Greggory treating people like garbage at her local mall.
Plot-wise “The Bronze” finds Hope reluctantly mentoring a promising Olympic hopeful (Haley Lu Richardson) after Hope’s late coach wills her half a million dollars but with the stipulation that Hope must train the girl to go all the way to the Olympics (which, due to legal reasons, goes unnamed in the film). Worried that Richardson will go on to usurp all of the free milkshakes and scrunchies she receives on a daily basis, Hope sabotages Richardson’s training by encouraging her to gorge on cheeseburgers and pot smoothies. But when an embittered ex (Sebastian Stan) arrives to properly train Richardson, Hope suddenly has second thoughts.
Although a refreshing departure from the mousey nonentity she plays on “The Big Bang Theory,” Rauch’s Hope is still an uneven and occasionally irritating comic creation. Unlike Steve Coogan’s brilliant Alan Partridge or McBride’s Kenny Powers, screenwriters, Rauch and her husband Winston, rush to soften the edges on Hope and attempt to redeem a character that defies redemption. Speaking in a pinched Shi-Caw-Goh accent (odd, considering that the film takes place in Amherst, Ohio) and rarely seen outside of her USA track suit, Hope carries all of the unfettered realism of Yosemite Sam. She’s basically a cartoon character, but then, so is everyone else in “The Bronze” particularly Stan whose ’80s, teen movie villain character looks uncomfortable once removed from the confines of the Cobra Kai dojo. Additionally, there isn’t a lot about “The Bronze” that makes much sense. Characters react obliviously to Hope’s labored insults and a romance between Hope and “Silicon Valley’s” Thomas Middleditch seems about as unearned as it is inexplicable.
Boasting the cinema verite aesthetics of the mumblecore movies made by executive producers The Duplas Brothers, “The Bronze” actually has more in common with the broad sitcom stylings of Rauch’s “Big Bang” employer Chuck Lorre right down to a saccharine ‘everything’s OK again’ happy ending (which is tragically capped off by an unironic rap performed by Rauch). A shame really, because that opening and Gary Cole’s funny but heartbreaking performance as Hope’s emotionally shattered pushover of a father suggests something darker and intelligent. Overlong and repetitive, “The Bronze” is an apt title because this film is decidedly third rate.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Melissa Rauch, Cecily Strong, Cassandra Baun,
Director: Bryan Buckley
Weekender Rating: WW
Length: 108 minutes