Rauch’s Olympic gymnast tumbles in caustic comedy
In the cranky, foulmouthed tradition of bad grandpas, bad teachers, bad Santas and so forth, “The Bronze” unveils yet another vinegar-spirited comedic antihero: the bad sport.
Catapulting herself into the public eye, “The Big Bang Theory’s” Melissa Rauch stars as Hope Ann Greggory, an Olympic has-been who’s ridden the celebrity of her third-place gymnastics medal about as far as it will take her. Rauch’s caustic character sketch feels similarly overstretched, landing easy laughs over and over with the same joke: a twisted take on the sort of America’s sweetheart even Tonya Harding couldn’t tarnish.
A true gymnast would appreciate the virtually impossible balancing act of trying to make audiences like a character as unrepentantly self-absorbed as Hope, a pony-tailed blond brat who stole the bronze medal from the brink of a career-ending ankle injury. Not every actress can handle the task as expertly as, say, Reese Witherspoon did in “Legally Blonde,” nor could most directors sell Rauch’s relatively thin range as effectively as first-time director Bryan Buckley does. Here, the trick amounts to embracing just how off-putting the character’s love-to-hate personality can be.
To put it bluntly, Hope is “a spoiled b----,” as it takes her impossibly patient single father (Gary Cole) nearly the entire movie to tell her: Within the film’s first reel, she crushes and snorts allergy medicine, excoriates her dad, steals random kids’ birthday card money from the mail, bullies a friendly Sbarro employee and brushes off
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Ran aspiring young gymnast, all while sporting the same 3-inch bangs, teenybopper ponytail and red-whiteand-blue warmup suit she wore a dozen years earlier. She needs a serious attitude adjustment, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from such films, warm-fuzzy redemption is on its way.
The script (which Rauch wrote with her husband, Winston Rauch) indicates exactly how things will go when Hope receives a letter from Coach P. (Christine E. Abraham), the staunch Russian who boosted her to victory. In broken English, the old battle-ax dangles a $500,000 reward if her former student agrees to coach 16-year-old Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), considers America’s next great gymnastic hope.
Naturally, Hope despises the idea that someone from her own hometown — folksy Amherst, Ohio, where the film was shot — might steal her glory. So, in a montage that falls short of its comic potential, Hope instructs Maggie to spend her workout ses- sions “visualizing” her maneuvers (instead of actually practicing them); and takes her around to the unhealthiest junk food establishments in town until the poor girl develops a beer gut.
While Hope sets about trying to sabotage the absurdly compliant young athlete’s chances, two guys appear with other plans. The first is the sweet, shy gym manager (Thomas Middleditch), who’s had a crush on Hope since her pre-Olympic days, and the other is the cocky, conquest-seeking gold medalist (Sebastian Stan). The two characters are a study in opposites, each motivated to see Maggie succeed, both hoping to win Hope over in the process, though only one will have the privilege, resulting in what’s sure to be the funniest (not to mention most athletic) on-screen hookup of the year.
Buckley, who’s directed more Super Bowl commercials than there have been Super Bowls, as well as the Oscar-nominated short “Asad,” is more confident than most in terms of how to light, shoot and cut a first-time comedy, and though no one would accuse “The Bronze” of not being funny, it somehow manages not to be funny often enough.
Melissa Rauch plays an ex-Olympian living off her fame.