“The Bronze” is one of those faux-naughty comedies that simply doesn’t have the courage of its lack of convictions.
It starts, all too briefly, as a stinging look at an Olympic athlete whose career ended with an injury. Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch) has retired at 29 to her hometown of Amherst, Ohio, where she mooches off her infinitely patient and stupid father (Gary Cole). She snorts drugs, smokes pot, steals money from letters in her dad’s post office truck, cadges food at restaurants that still display her picture 12 years after she won her bronze medal, and generally exudes a musk of contempt and self-pity that would choke all but her blindest fans.
One of those, gymnast Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), seems likely to surpass Hope’s achievements with proper guidance. She studies with Hope’s old coach, a Slavic sourpuss who commits suicide. Suddenly, Hope gets a posthumous letter: If she will train Maggie for the upcoming Olympics, she’ll get $500,000 from the coach’s estate. Hope can’t stand to see someone get ahead of her, but she needs the dough.
Here the film becomes a conventional reclamation story so clichéd I blush to relate it. Hope discovers that deep down, she wants Maggie to win gold. She strikes up a tentative relationship with Ben, the gentle manager of the local training facility (Thomas Middleditch). Evil enters the picture, in the form of a male gymnast (Sebastian Stan) who deflowered Hope years ago and now tries to steal Maggie for the squad he coaches. Hope continues to curse and say rude things half-heartedly, but her bile ducts no longer function properly.
The movie was nominated for a grand jury prize at Sundance, now the perennial home for half-daring movies. Voters may have been carried away by Rauch’s perfect portrayal of both the raunchy, selfish Hope and the rehabilitated one. But the script by Rauch and her husband, Winston, rarely rises above mediocrity in the last half. (One wildly gymnastic sex scene briefly jolts it back to life.)
The romance between Hope and Ben, pleasant as it is, never seems convincing. Even a novice such as Maggie would see through Hope’s initial attempts to distract her with a boyfriend and stuff her with useless calories, in hopes of ensuring failure at the Olympic trials.
Like many first-time writers, the Rauches stumble over situations that demand explanations but receive none: The suicidal coach pours her life into a training center that’s about to go broke, yet she miraculously has half a million dollars left to leave Hope. We’re meant to take intention for execution in movies like this; Olympic judges would never do that, and neither should we.
Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan.
Director: Bryan Buckley.
Length: 100 minutes.
Rating: R (strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout and some drug use).