Actually, The Bronze barely wins a participant ribbon

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


The Bronze
Opens March 18
2 out of 5

American indie comedies are usually character-based, focusing on society’s outcasts (whether they’re aware of their condition or not).

These comedies are also usually kind of angry and seldom funny. I can only guess Americans have internalized a cultural hatred of outsiders so deeply that even sympathetic portraits of weirdos tend to go wrong.

Following the do-it-yourself Good Will Hunting model, Melissa Rauch (Bernadette in The Big Bang Theory) attempts to build a career outside the sitcom realm with The Bronze, a Sundance phenomenon she wrote with her husband. Like many films that reached notoriety in Park City (cough, The Witch, cough), the movie doesn’t live up to the hype. But it’s not without merit.

Once a rising gymnastics star, Hope Greggory (Rauch) has been coasting on her fame for 10 years. Her narrative, the kind that America loves, involves scoring third place at the Olympics, despite competing with a broken foot. A premature return to training and the emergence of her boobs sidelined her for good.

Hope uses her small town in Ohio — where she remains a celebrity — as her personal playground. Impossibly petty and entitled, the girl is a nightmare, particularly for her dad (Gary Cole) who reluctantly caters to her every whim.

There is one last incentive Hope responds to: money. Her former trainer dies and leaves the her half a million dollars, as long as she agrees to coach a promising newcomer, who may usurp her title as the town’s sweetheart.

A degree of empathy emerges, but may be too little too late after a decade of narcissism and selfishness.

The Bronze follows a tried and true path (refusal of the call, challenge, rise to the occasion, challenge, new status quo), so don’t expect any groundbreaking narrative. It’s also more humorous than funny, and often verges on straight-up drama.

It’s the character of Hope that prevents the movie from sinking. Unlikeable, complex and self-loathing, the ex-gymnast is magnetic. Rauch stops just short of turning Hope into a cartoon, and can be soulful whenever she’s not saddled with supposedly comical plot contrivances.

Chief among the movie’s missteps is the most notorious scene of The Bronze: A lengthy, acrobatic sex scene between Hope and rival coach Lance (the Winter Soldier himself, Sebastian Stan). Reminiscent of Team America: World Police, the sequence is an act of self-sabotage, but it’s robbed of all its dramatic heft by the filmmaker’s ill-timed pursuit of comedy gold.

Another problem with The Bronze is that while Greggory is a fully formed creation, nobody else comes close: Dad is a pushover, her rival is smarmy, her love interest (Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley) is kind of pathetic and her protégée is hopelessly naïve. This single-trait ensemble only exists to interact with the lead in a clearly wasted opportunity.

The Bronze almost staggers its way to a three-planet review, but the finale feels improvised and not in a good way. An otherwise benign character undergoes a 180-degree transformation to service Hope’s journey (the same individual is kicked on the floor during the credits). One can’t help but wonder what external factors were involved.