THE BRONZE (2016)
Starring Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Cecily Strong, Haley Lu Richardson, Ellery Sprayberry, Christine E. Abraham, Brian Binder, Barak Hardley, Dale Raoul, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Dawes and Olga Korbut.
Screenplay by Melissa Rauch and Winston Rauch.
Directed by Bryan Buckley.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 107 minutes. Rated R.
Actress Melissa Rauch has come up with an interesting comic specialty for herself – a pixie-cute blonde spitfire whose wholesome adorableness somewhat disguises a massive (and slightly scary) mean streak.
That type of role is easier to pull off in her day job – as the seventh lead of the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. However, if her character of Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz (the wife of diminutive astronaut Howard) has a saccharine ditziness which camouflages a raging anger and emasculating anti-socialness, the worst parts of her character are always tempered by the fact that she is just one of several supporting characters.
So it is somewhat surprising that Rauch and her co-screenwriter husband, in creating her opportunity to grab for the gold ring, ratcheted up her most annoying qualities for her starring debut.
Hope Ann Greggory – the main character of The Bronze – is a pretty horrific person, and not one that you want to spend time with. Therefore, it is a bit of a hard sell to try to get an audience to root for the redemption of such a mean, spoiled, selfish person.
Apparently loosely based on Tonya Harding, Greggory is a one-time Olympian hopeful whose injury during the games (they seem to have grafted Kerri Strug’s tragic-but-uplifting back story onto Harding’s hardened looks and personality) left her a short-lived public sensation. However, even the smallest perks of her stardom seem to have just about run out, leaving her an angry, pathetic, mooching, sex-crazed, alcoholic loser.
She constantly berates her overwhelmed father (played by a good-natured-but-exasperated character actor Gary Cole) – the only person who will put up with her massive mood swings and her determination to attack any weakness she can exploit. Dad feels guilt for having pressured her in the Olympics, now he is trying to undo her determination that she has been robbed of fame and she will make the rest of the world pay for her slight.
Hope is all too aware that in her tiny Ohio town – where she is the only thing close to a celebrity – there is a new young gymnast who is building an Olympic buzz. Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson) is the new kid on the block and working with Hope’s estranged former coach. Maggie is 16, talented, sweet, perky, religious, shy, old-fashioned, a naturally giving and caring person. Hope hates her for all these things, but mostly she hates her because she knows if Maggie is successful in making it to the Olympics, Hope will be essentially erased from the town’s memory.
However, their fates are thrown together when her old coach commits suicide. A few days later, she receives at letter from the dead coach, promising her a $500,000.00 inheritance, but only if she coaches Maggie to the Olympics tryout. Win or lose, that is all that is asked of Hope, but if she fails to get her to that level, she loses the money.
Hope’s job of coaching her will be assisted by the son of the gymnasium owner who she hasn’t seen since he was a kid, who is played by Thomas Middleditch of “Silicon Valley.” Even though he is obviously in love with her from the very beginning, she calls him “Twitchy” – mocking his nervous tics (or perhaps even Tourette’s Syndrome) – throughout the film. Like so many of Hope’s actions, this seems beyond the pale rude, particularly since she is mostly responsible for his nervousness.
Hope takes over the job, but her bitterness towards the girl cause her to evilly sabotage her at all levels – changing her healthy diet to a steady stream of junk food, cutting down her practice time, bringing in a guy to distract her, even getting her stoned before an important tryout. It is only when Hope realizes that an old nemesis – Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan), the guy who took Hope’s virginity and then dumped her flat – wants to take over coaching Maggie that Hope starts to take her job at all seriously.
The movie can’t get over this tendency toward mean-spiritedness (look at the climactic “fate” dolloped on the young phenom in the “Whatever happened to…” title scrawls at the end of the film, for no other reason than just taking just one last swipe at the character), therefore it is hard to buy into Hope’s eventual moral resurrection.
Rauch certainly took a big chance in playing such an evil character in her introductory lead role. Normally before playing similar unrepentant and irretrievable parts in movies like Bad Santa, Bad Teacher and Bad Grandpa (maybe this movie should have been called Bad Gymnast), the lead actor usually has a certain amount of audience goodwill built up in other roles.
Truth is, Rauch is very good in the role, she throws herself into it, completely devoted to the darkness in the character’s soul. The problem is, she does such a good job of making us hate Hope that by the time that she has the opportunity for a moral redemption, for the most part we can’t really give a fuck. Let her continue her pathetic lifestyle, just so long as she stays far, far away from us.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 2, 2016.