Review: The Bronze
PLOT: A bratty former Olympian who has refused to grow up and leave her small town suddenly becomes the coach of a new young gymnast who threatens to steal the thunder she's held on to for so long.
REVIEW: For about half of THE BRONZE's running time, you'll absolutely loathe Hope Greggory. And the movie wants it that way, too. Daring choice for a movie such as this to give you a protagonist so completely unlikable you'll genuinely root for something bad to happen to her. As played by Melissa Rauch, Hope is a spoiled brat prone to childlike tantrums, obscene language, nastily bossing people around and a general air of ugliness that begs for a slap in the face. It's not cute-bitchy behavior; Hope is a horrible person, and I hated watching her.
So kudos to Melissa, her co-writer/husband Winston and director Bryan Buckley for managing to entice me enough to stick with the character and her shenanigans, ultimately delivering something that's halfway between sweet and sour. THE BRONZE ends up being rather predictable, but because it's tinged with such sharp edges it carves out its own little niche in the romantic comedy world. It's never as funny as it wants to be, but you can't say this little monster doesn't have a personality to call its own.
Hope was, at one time, America's sweetheart; a talented Olympian from a small midwest town, she helped Team U.S.A. win the Bronze medal in gymnastics despite rupturing her achilles. (Shades of Kerri Strug in the 1996 games are overt.) That was then, this is now: Hope hasn't grown up at all since those glory days, and lords over her town like little Anthony in the famous "It's a Good Life" episode of The Twilight Zone. She's one step away from wishing you into the cornfield if you don't give her free food, clothes, drugs, drinks, whatever else she pleases. Her father (Gary Cole), like the rest of the town, puts up with her impossible behavior because of her former golden child status, but the act has pretty much run its course and Hope needs to get a job and get serious about the real world, even if she'll fight it kicking and screaming - literally.
An opportunity for Hope's second act comes with a bad news/good news scenario: Her former coach, whom she's been estranged from for years, has committed suicide, but before her death she willed Hope $500,000 - if Hope agrees to train the town's next big thing, perky gymnast Maggie (Haley Lu Richards). Hope sees an opportunity to make easy cash while also sabotaging the girl's bright future - their town's only big enough for one Olympian, after all - but naturally time spent with her boundlessly energetic pupil, as well as a burgeoning relationship with the owner of the gym they work in (Thomas Middleditch), slowly but surely melts Hope's icy heart.
Your appreciation, or lack thereof, of THE BRONZE will fully depend on your reaction to Hope. As mentioned, I couldn't stand her for quite a while, and it's not just that she's a grotesque shrew, it's that there isn't even any originality to her. Her insults are lame and repetitive, her disposition is frighteningly immature, her voice is like knives in your ears. Rauch takes these traits and runs with them to an impressive level, but at the same time you begin wondering just how much you can stand. It's one thing to give us a character who's unlikable but fascinating (think Reese Witherspoon in ELECTION), it's another to make a character so deplorable that we're tempted to leave the theater.
But stick it out I did, and in the end I was more or less glad. As the Hope character loses some of her bitterness, the movie opens up and allows for several quiet, enjoyable moments, as well as stand out performances from some of the supporting cast. Middleditch in particular is really appealing as the twitchy Ben (his nickname is actually Twitchy), who brings humanity out of Hope; Cole can always be relied upon in a comedy such as this, and he doesn't disappoint as a sympathetic, put-upon father who's reaching his last nerve. Another standout is The Winter Soldier himself, Sebastian Stan, as a cocky, obnoxious coaching rival of Hope's. When the movie starts allowing these characters to intrude on Hope's stage, it becomes less of a chore, and you might just find yourself rooting for the mean-spirited nag after all.
There's also one scene in the movie that is so funny it almost makes up for the unwatchable parts. Won't spoil it here, but it's really something to behold. If you do take on THE BRONZE, you won't be able to miss it, or forget it.