Dark gymnastics comedy should have points deducted

by Dave Randall

The Bronze
Directed by Bryan Buckley
Starring: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson, Sebastian Stan
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout and some drug use
1 hr. 48 min.

2016 is an Olympic year. Young women gymnasts, the petite, tumbling pixies who can crush skulls between their gluteal cheeks, are ready to vault into prime time with their blank, sternly focused faces, half-hugs, and childhoods left somewhere between the uneven parallel bars. It’s been a quadrennial rite from the days of Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci to the Magnificent Seven in Atlanta and McKayla Maroney’s side-smile in London. The intent of The Bronze is to darkly parody the seriousness, the discipline, the elation and heartbreak of the sport. Any way you look at it though, four months ahead of the games in Rio, just in time for Easter, The Bronze has laid an egg.

Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory), co-writer along with her husband, Winston, stars as Hope Ann Gregory, America’s sweetheart, who overcame an injury à la Kerri Strug to snag a bronze and become an Olympic heroine. Hope, however, is far from sweet. Living in her Olympic sweat suit and on her notoriety, she is without question the most dislikable character this side of a Quentin Tarantino film.  She’s foul, she’s vile, rotten and shrill. She swears like an angry teamster. Hope is a narcissist with no therapist, a pony-tailed ad for mood-stabilizing drugs.

The Bronze, ostensibly, is a comedy, but Hope is too awful to draw more than a couple of laughs. In fact, you hate her and her fusillade of profanity. Nearly every sentence she utters is shockingly obscene. Spewing invectives, she lives off her bronze medal while tormenting her father (Gary Cole), an enabler if there ever was one. In a Brewster’s Millions-type twist, Hope accepts a job coaching Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson), an up-and-coming medal favorite, whom she procedes to, first, sabotage; then train.

Let’s be fair: The plot is there. The potential, the comic chops are there. The writing is not. Were there more nuances to Hope’s meanness, the humor would spring forth. She doesn’t smile until halfway through the film, and there’s nothing to evoke any empathy for this character until then, but by that point, anyone who’s watched it all doesn’t want to care.

That’s when Hope has straightened up a bit and, with less than the usual malice, coached Maggie to the summer games. Along the way, she crosses swords with another galactically vain former Olympian, Lance (Sebastian Stan), who’s only slightly less a sociopath than she is, but much less the vulgarian.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the only thing not repellent about Melissa Rauch’s Hope rests beneath her Olympic sweat-jacket, and that comes into view during a sex romp that’s the ribald fantasy Jerry Seinfeld once had about gymnasts. (See the old TV episode — it’s funnier.)

Through Hope’s wretched spitefulness, unrelenting vicious flood of curse words and unlikely redemption, the true laughs can be counted on one hand. One has to ask how producers Mark and Jay Duplass (HBO’s Togetherness) and director Bryan Buckley, with the money, professional effort and talent it takes to make a feature film, let it get into post-production without a rewrite or some punching up. Maybe Melissa Rauch could have toned down Hope’s horribleness. Something, anything that would elevate this movie to what it could have been. It would be mixing metaphors to say The Bronze strikes out, so let’s put it another way: It falls flat on the mat after a bad dismount. Points deducted. No medal, at all.