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Bronze, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Bars Aren't The Only Uneven Thing Here. . ."
1 stars

Last week saw the release of “The Brothers Grimsby,” one of the most foul, wretched, ugly and painfully unfunny comedies to come along in quite some time. Now comes “The Bronze” and while it may be slightly better than Sacha Baron Cohen’s cinematic hymn to the comedic properties of elephant semen, it is otherwise so bereft of wit, ingenuity or even moments of inspired bad taste that not only could it play on a double bill with “The Brothers Grimsby,” it deserves to. It isn’t so much that it isn’t funny—though it is, with the exception of one genuinely amusing scene, excruciatingly unfunny from start to finish—as it is so painfully off-base throughout that you cannot imagine how it could have possibly succeeded even under the best of circumstances and believe me, this film is as far from falling under that particular heading as can be.

Our anti-heroine is Hope Greggory (Melissa Rauch), a gymnast who won the heart of America when she scored a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics despite suffering what would prove to be a career-ending injury. Twelve years later, she has morphed into a monster who snorts crushed allergy medicine, steals money from envelopes in the mail truck driven by her infinitely patient father (Gary Cole), continues to milk her fame in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio for whatever she can get for it (which at this point is freebies at Sbarro) and masturbates while watching a tape of her moment of triumph—all while wearing the same ponytail and warmup suit combo that she was rocking a dozen years earlier. This is a character that seems to have been bused in from one of John Waters’s early experiments in deliberately obnoxiousness (minus the Waters wit, alas) and when word comes that her former coach, whom she fell out with years earlier, has committed suicide, hardly anyone in the audience could possibly blame her for making that particular choice.

Soon afterwards, Hope receives a letter from her departed coach offering her a $500,000 inheritance that is contingent on her taking over the training of Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), a 16-year-old local gymnast being groomed to be America’s next potential Olympic champion. Appalled by the idea that her position of local celebrity might be permanently usurped by the uber-perky upstart, Hope decides to sabotage her chances with a new training regimen that has Maggie dry-humping in the back seat of Hope’s car with the nearest boy she can find, eating enough junk food to alter her physique and practices that focus on “visualizing” her routine instead of actually rehearsing it. However, when it finally dawns on Hope that the inheritance payoff only happens if Maggie makes it to the Olympics, she is forced to buckle down and begin training her for real, albeit in her own unique manner. Keeping tabs on her progress are two guys who both want Maggie to succeed, albeit for diametrically different reasons, and who have their own pasts with Hope. Ben (Thomas Middleditch) is the sweet nerd who now runs the gym where Maggie trains and who still unaccountably nurses a long-standing crush of Hope. Meanwhile, Lance (Sebastian Stan), the arrogant champion male gymnast who deflowered Hope years and who is now in charge of the U.S. gymnastics team, wants to wrest Maggie away from Hope even as he hopes to wrestle Hope back into bed.

As you have no doubt surmised by this point, “The Bronze” wants to do for the world of competitive gymnastics what “Bad Santa” did for mall Santa Clauses—take a milieu that is usually associated with sweetness and light and throw a venal, self-absorbed and relentlessly foul-mouthed character into the mix for maximum shock effect. In the case of “Bad Santa,” the whole thing worked for a number of reasons—the screenplay was as clever as it was vulgar, it featured a great performance by Billy Bob Thornton in the title role as well as inspired supporting turns from the rest of the cast and when it made its inevitable turn towards sentimentality in the final scenes, it did so in a way that nevertheless managed to stay true to the outrageousness that preceded it. By comparison, “The Bronze” knows all the words to a film like “Bad Santa”—especially the four-letter ones—but none of the music and as a result, it demonstrates all of the wit of a little kid running around mindlessly repeating all of the swear words that he learned from an older sibling and it wear just about as well.

The screenplay, which Rauch co-wrote with her husband, Winston, is as eager to offend as anything that you will ever see or hear in this lifetime but nevertheless comes up short because the vulgarities on display never feel like the things that actual people might say, as was the case with the raunchy dialogue in something like “Clerks”—they are almost all too clever for their own good—and because they simply are not very funny. As it turns out, nearly every one of those attempted laugh lines have been give to Hope to deliver and as a result, the rest of the characters are pretty much reduced to standing by and watching while she delivers yet another seemingly endless aria of smut. The ending is especially rotten because after the film has spent roughly 80 minutes or so asking us to revel in Hope’s hateful and cynical attitude—which would not have been a problem had it also been amusing—it then tries to turn on a dime in the last few minutes by asking us to genuinely care about her without giving us any real reason to do so. Then, perhaps realizing that this move isn’t working, it tries to add a final cynical twist that screams of desperation more than anything else.

That said, even if these screenplay flaws had been corrected, it is still hard to see how “The Bronze” could have possibly worked because it is centered around a character who earned a bronze in gymnastic but who takes the gold in being singularly off-putting. To give Rauch credit, she certainly commits completely to the character to the point where those who know her only as the far sweeter character she plays on “The Big Bang Theory” would be hard-pressed to recognize her here. The trouble is that while the film goes to astounding lengths to make her unlikeable, which is not necessarily a problem, it fails to make her even the slightest bit interesting, which is a problem. Not to keep flashing back to “Bad Santa” but in that film, all it took was one look at Billy Bob Thornton’s world-weary visage to recognize the lifetime of hurts and spectacularly bad choices that led him to his current life of two-bit grifting. Moreover, he also managed to suggest that there was indeed something of possible value beneath the character’s otherwise abrasive nature that made him interesting. By comparison, Hope has none of those shadings—she is little more than a one-note character being banged out on a piano that is way out of tune and there is never an instant when she generates anything in the way of actual interest in who she is or what she hopes to accomplish. Had this been a short or an SNL skit, it might have worked around the lack of shading but the idea of spending nearly two hours in her company will be akin to torture in the minds of most rational people.

“The Bronze” is an awful, awful movie but, as I alluded to at the beginning of this review, I must report that it does contain one scene that is genuinely funny and inspired. In the scene, Hope and the sleazy Lance get drunk and go back to have drunken, gymnastics-based sex and their exertions are so hilariously over-the-top (even more so because of the obvious doubles being used to make the moves) that they make Elizabeth Berkley’s swimming pool undulations in “Showgirls” seem downright placid by comparison. In a decent comedy, this scene might have been the highlight but in something as otherwise bereft of laughs as this is, desperate viewers will glom on to it in the way that a starving dog might go after a bone. Unfortunately, not even this is enough to warrant watching “The Bronze” under any circumstances. This is a film that does for comedy what Eddie the Eagle ultimately did for ski jumping—absolutely nothing.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28217&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/18/16 15:58:22
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Nantucket Film Festival For more in the 2015 Nantucket Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/19/16 FireWithFire Comedy is out-moded, just like Westerns and Musicals. 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Mar-2016 (R)
  DVD: 02-Aug-2016

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-Mar-2016
  DVD: 02-Aug-2016




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