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Movie review: ‘The Bronze’

| Managing Editor

Directed by: Bryan Buckley
Starring: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch

Raunchy sports comedies have become quite the popular genre within the past 15 or so years.

The mid-2000s in particular had a glut of them—from “Dodgeball” and “Kicking & Screaming” to “Talladega Nights” and “Blades of Glory,” there’s no shortage of opportunities to watch comedians like Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell get kicked and hit in the crotch. Of course, virtually all of these films starred men, which is why I was excited to see Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”) star in a very Will Ferrell-esque role in the indie comedy, “The Bronze.” Unfortunately, while the film aims for the gold, much like its protagonist, it doesn’t quite get there.

“The Bronze” follows Hope Ann Greggory (Rauch), a former Olympic gymnast who stole America’s heart when she competed through an injury to win a bronze medal in the 2004 games. More than a decade later, Hope is still riding the high of her 2004 win, relishing her continued status as a hometown hero while still living with her long-suffering single dad (Gary Cole) in small-town Ohio. Despite being jobless and nearly broke, Hope refuses to take on any semblance of responsibility in her life. But that all changes when her former coach commits suicide, leaving Hope with $500,000 of inheritance on the condition that she take over as coach for Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), a rising star on the verge of stealing Hope’s spotlight.

Unfortunately, the movie’s main shtick is also one of its biggest flaws—namely, that Hope is absolutely insufferable. Not only is she foul-mouthed, immature and self-centered—traits that would probably be amusing on their own—but she’s also borderline abusive toward her father and no less nasty toward everyone else she encounters. It’s clear that insecurity is at the root of Hope’s bad behavior, but that nuance gets lost in her vindictiveness; Rauch (who also wrote the film with her husband, Winston) sets up the character to be so despicable that even her occasional kinder moments feel false rather than cathartic. (Needless to say, this role is very different from the one Rauch plays on “Big Bang.”) Sure, Hope is funny, but she’ll leave you cringing as much as she leaves you laughing.

In contrast, almost everyone else in Hope’s life seems to be relentlessly sunny and innocent, which makes Hope’s vileness all the more exhausting. Protege Maggie is so clean and adorable she might as well be a cartoon character; her naivete is good for some laughs but her lack of agency (save for one unexpected moment at the end) makes her much less interesting than she should be. And while Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”) is charming and hilarious as dweeby assistant trainer Ben “Twitchy” Lawfort, his spinelessness is as frustrating as his eventual romance with Hope is unlikely. Most of the characters are fairly one-dimensional, embodying a Midwestern folksiness that borders on the sickeningly sweet. The one notable exception is Hope’s doting father, Stan. Cole shines as the mild-mannered widower, subverting your expectations of the character at exactly the right moment.

Just as “The Bronze” struggles to define many of its characters, it also struggles to define its tone. The film’s small-town, faux-retro setting and pitiful characters give it a vibe similar to that of “Napoleon Dynamite,” but it lacks the innocence and charm of the 2004 cult classic. The movie is certainly funny, but a large portion of its laughs come from a place of shock and discomfort rather than from genuine comedy. And while “The Bronze” is decidedly R-rated, the moments that earned it that rating are essentially superfluous. For the most part, the worst the movie has to offer is Hope’s relentless stream of obscenities—until the third act slaps you in the face with one of the most outrageous sex scenes you’ll ever see in a feature film.

That being said, the film’s unpredictability is also, in some sense, its saving grace. While its overall arc isn’t all that unexpected—and luckily, that does mean we get to see Hope grow up a little—a couple of twists at the end of the film keep things fresh. In the end, “The Bronze” stops just short of tying everything up in a neat little bow, and it’s oddly satisfying in its lack of satisfaction.

Like its protagonist, “The Bronze” is thoroughly flawed, but it more or less redeems itself in the end. To use a gymnastics metaphor, the film’s routine is nowhere near perfect, but somehow, it still manages to stick the landing.