THE BRONZE is an entertaining but standard-issue R-rated American comedy, equal parts Bad Teacher and any Danny McBride vehicle, which makes one wonder what it’s doing in the Dramatic Competition line-up at the Sundance Film Festival. (McBride’s breakout movie The Foot Fist Way also premiered at Sundance, but in the more genre-oriented Midnight section.) Another similarity to McBride is that The Bronze has been co-written by its star, Big Bang Theory featured player Melissa Rauch, to put her in the spotlight.
The role she’s given herself (with her co-writer and husband Winston Rauch) is Hope Annabelle Greggory, a gymnast who had her 15 minutes of fame when, despite a broken ankle, she managed a one-foot landing to end her routine that gave the US the broze medal in the movie’s version of the Olympics. (Trademark issues prevent movies from telling fictional Olympics stories without the organization’s consent, and they sure wouldn’t have consented to this one.) That was the peak of her life, and she never managed to get close to it again. When we meet her, 10 years later, she’s bitter and bilious, living off her postman father Stan (Gary Cole) and lashing out at anyone who crosses her path.
Things change when her former coach, with whom she’d broken ties, suddenly dies, and Hope is told she’s been left the coach’s $500K estate–but with a catch. She’ll only inherit if she agrees to guide fresh-faced Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), who also hails from Hope’s small town, to this year’s Games. The inheritance isn’t conditional on Maggie actually winning a medal, so at first Hope’s “training” is designed to ruin Maggie (getting her overweight, urging her to have sex, ultimately feeding her pot smoothies), so Hope will continue to be her town’s sweetheart. But–who would have thought it?–in the end Hope’s competitive spirit, roused in part by obnoxious gold-medal winner Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan), who trains the other leading US contender, pushes her into training Maggie for real.
The plot trajectory of The Bronze is essentially a repeat of Bad Teacher‘s up to and including the nice-guy co-worker (Silicon Valley‘s Thomas Middlechurch in the Jason Segal role) who good-humoredly endures Hope’s taunts while waiting for her to become a Better Human Being. The movie’s money sequence is reminiscent of another recent Cameron Diaz vehicle, a no-holds-barred demonstration of genuinely gymnastic sex that’s like the lengthy routine Diaz and Segal mistakenly uploaded to the “cloud” in Sex Tape. (The one here is a lot funnier, though.)
Until the plot falters in its last stretch, which requires a character to make a 180 degree change for no reason other than contrivance, The Bronze mostly works fairly well on its predictable terms. Although director Bryan Buckley doesn’t provide much visual style (too bad for a story that actually comes to turn on affection for its small town setting), he keeps things moving, and the actors are all strong. Rauch’s character may be an expanded sketch lead, but the actress is able to successfully move Hope from tyrannical nitwit to human being, Cole and Middlechurch are reliably effective, and Stan shows surprising comic zing as Hope’s foe.
The Bronze, which has been bought for release by Relativity, should if anything fit in better at the multiplex than at a film festival. Its marketing challenge is Rauch’s lack of leading lady star power, but theres plenty of material here for red-band trailers to go viral.