NOTE: This is a reprint of my review from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Women's gymnastics is a cutthroat sport; not like figure skating where the ladies occasionally bash one another with lead pipes, but it's still pretty ugly. The girls, because that's what they really are, get worked to death in order to attain a measure of perfection that must extend to their daily lives. Win and you'll be a hero...for a while, but you're considered old long before the age of 20 ever hits. And then what? In Melissa Rauch's dark comedy The Bronze it leads to a case of terminal arrested development worthy of a gold medal, although the film itself is maybe funny enough to earn...well, a bronze.
Rauch, who stars on CBS' The Big Bang Theory, plays Hope Ann Greggory, a gymnast who snapped her achilles during the 2004 Olympics and hung in there, Kerri Strug-style, to stick an impossible landing and earn a bronze medal. It made her an instant celebrity and national hero, but years later she's bitter as Hell with nothing to show for her past accomplishments. She lives at home with her lonely father Stan (Gary Cole) and basks in her former glories. The well-worn tape of her Olympic feat is masturbation material for the most part, and Hope cashes in on her fame for cheap sex and free food. Worst of all, she's a complete snot to her father and everyone she knows, which includes Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), the hot young gymnast expected to be an Olympic champ.
While the show pony world of gymnastics is begging to be ripped in satirical fashion, Rauch's screenplay doesn't analyze the sport as much as use it as a backdrop to explore a life in a comical state of crisis. The problem is that Hope's life isn't all that humorous, it's just kind of pathetic, and too often Rauch goes overboard in trying to find laughs where there are none. When Hope's former trainer commits suicide, she's compelled to become Maggie's new trainer all the way through championships and earn $500,000. Does she train Maggie and see her position as town superstar supplanted? Or does she sabotage her efforts and risk losing the money? A few dozen hamburgers and milkshakes later and Hope is well on her way to derailing Maggie's career, which is funny to watch but doesn't exactly endear her to you in any way. The redemptive course she embarks on, because there inevitably has to be one, is complicated by the arrogant Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan), a past champ and fling who Hope shares a love/hate relationship with. The two share one fantastically bizarre sexual encounter that must be like every gymnast's wet dream. The gym rings have never been put to such good use. It's a great scene that shows director Bryan Buckley's visual inventiveness and Rauch's commitment to a pretty raunchy role. The problem is that it never quite becomes engaging until she sparks a genuinely sweet but rocky romance with Ben (Thomas Middleditch), nicknamed "Twitchy" because of frequent and unexplained spasms. Middleditch gets some good mileage out of Twitchy's condition but he finds some solid chemistry with Rauch and gives the film a hopeful touch it sorely needed.
The Bronze never quite comes together as the laugh-out-loud riot some had pegged it to be heading into Sundance, and while it stumbles through the routine much of the way it just manages to stick the landing.
Rating: 3 out of 5