Who doesn’t love a mean-spirited, foul-mouthed anti-hero, trying to stretch out her already over-stretched fifteen minutes of fame, especially when it comes in the form of writer/producer/actor Melissa Rauch in “The Bronze”.
Hope Ann Greggory was once America’s darling. As written by Rauch and co-writer Winston Rauch, the pair, together with director Bryan Buckley, go for the gold as much is gleaned from Olympic images we’ve seen over the years; notably, injured Keri Strugg being carried by her coach Bela Karolyi after sticking a one-legged vault landing to win a gold medal. Only in this case, an injured Hope Ann Greggory doesn’t get the gold. She goes home in third place with the bronze. Ouch.
Never able to bounce back from the loss, Hope Ann is an abrasive and abusive spoiled bitch of a person. Still living in her dad’s basement, she wears nothing but her Olympic uniform (years after the fact), still has her teeny-bopper pony-tailed banged hairstyle and steals money from the mail in her dad’s mail truck to sustain her self-absorbed existence while glomming freebies from local merchants still catering to her “celebrity”. But the day comes when all that may change when Hope Ann’s former coach dies and a letter comes to Hope Ann telling her if she takes over the training of the former coach’s prized pupil and get her to the Olympics, Hope Ann will get $500,000. Hmmm. Just get this girl Maggie to the Olympics, not win them, just get there and she gets $500K? Hope Ann is in. Of course, nothing is that easy and twists and turns abound, starting with Hope Ann sabotaging Maggie’s training. Adding fuel to the fire is Ben, the son of the local gym owner, and Lance, a former Olympian and long-time “enemy” of Hope Ann, and who is now Head Coach of the US Olympic Gymnastic Team.
Rauch sets the tone with snappy cadence and attitude in the profanity-laced dialogue that is absolutely killer. Walking the balance beam of offensive raunch, as both writer and star, Rauch does infuse Hope Ann with some niceties that may predictably lead to some form of redemption, but it’s the journey and Hope Ann’s less than admirable traits that fuel the funny and the film. Exhibiting star quality is Haley Lu Richardson as Maggie. Key to much of Richardson’s youthful exuberance is that as a trained dancer, she does many of the gymnastic routines herself including the balance beam, the entire floor routine and the bars, adding much to the film and the character.
Look out! Avenger in the house! Scene-stealing as Lance is Sebastian Stan. Who knew he was comedy gold? Stan has comedic timing that most veteran comics have difficulty achieving, but then he infuses rapid-fire snark that sticks like a perfect ten vault landing. And like Richardson, he does many of his own gymnastic stunts, not to mention the bulk of a bare-all gymnastic sex scene you’ve never seen before and may never see again. According to Rauch (also a hands-on producer), Stan did about 85% of the “gymnastics” himself. Both Rauch and Stan did, however, have body doubles courtesy of Cirque du Soleil, in the event they were needed. As Rauch related to me, while Stan’s body double had minimal screen time, her body double “had an extensive work-out with shooting.”
Absolutely charming is Thomas Middleditch who gives gym manager Ben a perfect amount of sweetness and integrity to counter Rauch’s mean-spirited edge. Middleditch just makes you go “awww” as the sub-plot of Ben crushing on Hope Ann takes shape and develops. Not to be overlooked is Gary Cole. Having worked with Rauch early in her acting career, the two reteam here, now as father and daughter. The ease with which Cole falls into the role of punch-drunk exasperated father to Rauch’s demanding Hope Ann is welcoming, and in many respects resonant for all parents.
High octane Super Bowl ad director Bryan Buckley ups his own award-winning game with “The Bronze” as his first feature film. With the level of production polish we have come to associate with his television spots, Buckley develops a pacing that is well done, visually mirroring the snappy patter and cadence of Rauch’s dialogue delivery, with only about 10 minutes of scenes that could use some trimming to tighten the story to match the crispness of the rest of Rauch’s script and edginess of Hope Ann. Things move at a clip, punctuated by some nicely done gymnastic training montages, as well as Hope Ann being center stage with the world revolving around her. Smartly, and surprisingly, although Hope Ann is front and center, supporting players are never sacrificed (although they each are some sort of sacrificial lamb for Hope Ann’s vitriol) in character development or screen time. Each is deftly written beyond being a one note, with performances adding to the rich emotional texture of each.
“The Bronze”, and its anti-hero you love to hate, brings home the gold!
Directed by Bryan Buckley
Written by Melissa Rauch and Winston Rauch
Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Sebastian Stan, Haley Lu Ruchardson, Thomas Middleditch