Gymnastics Comedy The Bronze Aims High, Falls Flat on Face

0D_Aj1PF0IggUMouS
The Bronze

Duplass Brothers Productions

There’s a kernel of a good idea in Bryan Buckley’s The Bronze — in fact, scratch that – there’s a whole bunch of kernels of various good ideas in the raunchy comedy, though most of them lay unpopped throughout the bloated, unflinchingly fucked up feature, like a giant bag of particularly bad movie theater popcorn. Buckley’s debut feature tries to tackle far too much for its own good, both in terms of basic narration and its a series of increasingly off-kilter tonal choices. A dark comedy about stunted adulthood and the diminishing returns of success, The Bronze shows promise, though it ultimately limps off the screen, much like its lead character.

Melissa Rauch stars in the film (which she co-wrote alongside her husband, Winston Raunch) as former Olympian (bronze medalist, obviously) Hope Annabelle Greggory, the hometown pride of a teensy Ohio burg that doesn’t have much else going for it beyond that one time its best gymnast went to the Games and essentially committed a miracle. Seemingly inspired by real-life gymnast Kerri Strug (remember her?), the film opens with a plucky young Hope ripping her Achilles tendon during a routine, only to power through and deliver a stirring (and inspirational) uneven bars bit. She sticks the landing. The Bronze can’t even effectively complete its first act.

Ten years after her win, Hope passes her days rewatching her bronze-winning (and career-ending) injury while angrily masturbating in her old warm-up set. Her twitchy-handed reverie is only broken when it’s time to distract her mailman dad (Gary Cole, very good here) while she tears through his mailbag in search of cash to sent other, surely more worthy people or to use her hometown fame for free Sbarro or something equally as gross. Hope is a loser, but she refuses to acknowledge that winning one thing a decade ago doesn’t make her national hero worthy of continued recognition. Stunted, foul-mouthed, and repugnant, Hope is a cautionary tale about what happens to ruined dreams. And The Bronze is supposed to be a comedy.

Rauch at least fully commits to Hope, never blinking or balking at spouting off the most eye-popping lines imaginable (this may be the first film to use a line of dialogue that includes the term “clit jizz,” and surely that must count for something). There’s a touch of sweetness to Hope, but years of disappointment and an unbreakable princess mentality keep her from ever feeling even close to human. If only Raunch could have pulled back the reins a little bit more, there’d be more, well, hope for Hope.

Of course, The Bronze attempts to heal Hope, after the death of her once-beloved, now-estranged former gymnastics coach, who shuffles off this mortal coil with one wish: that Hope train her newest protege, the near-hysterical Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson). “Coach P,” apparently knowing full well what drives Hope, leaves her a half million dollars, to be collected once Hope completes training Maggie for the upcoming Nationals. Being Hope, she initially attempts to sabotage Maggie, plying her with fast food, Avril Lavigne albums, and a near-mute boyfriend until she’s but a shell (a pudgy shell) of her former herself. If Hope can’t win, no one can win. It’s only when Hope’s financial windfall is threatened does she try to straighten up, perhaps becoming a better person along the way.

Or not, because Hope is still Hope, and goddammit, Hope is still awful, no matter how often Rauch’s own bright-eyed spirit attempts to peek out from the raunchy darkness it is shrouded in.

The Bronze mixes in dark humor delivered almost exclusively through shock tactics (Hope’s bad attitude and idiotic understanding of the world, though continually repeated, never really stop surprising) with an occassionally charming story about redemption and ambition. If those two tones sound as if they’re at odds with each other, it’s because they are, and Buckley rarely succeeds at marrying the two. Characters never stay true to themselves. Plot twists are invented simply for things to happen. There’s an overwhelming use of the word “fuck.” The result is a frenetic, loud-mouthed, jumbled attempt at comedy that grates at every possible turn, a feature that can’t even inspire a sufficient gymnastics and/or Olympics pun to describe its overall lackluster delivery. Do Olympics judges give points for “balls”? Do they count more than “execution” or “overall performance”?

The Upside: Bracingly raunchy humor, Rauch’s fearlessness, Middleditch’s indomitable charm, cinema’s best gymnastic sex scene (probably).

The Downside: The narrative is repetitive without payoff, the characters constantly contradict themselves, Hope Ann feels like a character ripped out of particularly bad SNL sketch, relies too much on shock humor, attempts to mix too many disparate tones.

On the Side: The end credits of the movie feature a special rap performed by Rauch that gently reflect the themes of the movie – just kidding, she says “fuck” a lot and yells at her dad.

grade_c_minus

Editor’s note: Our review of The Bronze originally ran during Sundance 2015, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release.