Comedies are never easy to make as getting people to laugh is much harder than getting them to cry. But then there are black comedies which dare you to laugh at things you would never would under normal circumstances. Those kind movies are a delicate balancing act as you are introduced to characters who are not at all politically correct, and yet somehow you find yourself rooting for them as the story goes on. Now some black comedies like “Bad Santa” and “The War of the Roses” are brilliant as they give us despicable characters who we cannot help but like. But then there’s “Bad Teacher” which aimed to be the “Bad Santa” of teacher comedies, but which ended up thinking being infinitely crude was the same as being infinitely funny.
“The Bronze” unfortunately joins company with “Bad Teacher” as it takes its inspired concept of an Olympic medalist trying to hang on to her former glory and gets it stuck in a repellant vat of crudity. It’s a shame because the movie stars and was co-written by Melissa Rauch who has proven her comedic brilliance on “The Big Bang Theory” and with her one-woman show “The Miss Education of Jenna Bush,” and she holds nothing back for one second in this movie. But her talents end up getting wasted with a script that doesn’t have enough laughs to justify its running time.
Rauch stars as Hope Annabelle Greggory, an Olympic gymnast who, after suffering a very painful injury, still manages to pull off an incredible win for the USA team. However, she and the team ended up with a bronze medal for their efforts, and while coming in third is not necessarily bad, it’s not particularly special in the large scheme of things. But that doesn’t matter to Hope because, as the movie catches up with her years later, she is still milking her Olympic win for all it’s worth.
Hope still lives in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio with her dad Stan (Gary Cole), a postal worker whom we see reading a book entitled “Saying No: How to Raise a Responsible Adult.” Clearly, Stan has started reading this book a number of years too late as Hope proves to be an unpleasant human being who treats him with disdain and uses her celebrity to take advantage of everyone in town. She steals letters from her dad’s truck for spending money, gets free meals at the local restaurant and buys drugs at the hometown mall, and after all that she gets infuriated when she sees a cigarette butt left on the ground.
Then one day she receives a letter from her late coach who has promised in her will to give her $500,000 dollars to train Amherst’s latest gymnastic star, Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), for a chance to join the American team at the next Olympic games. It’s no surprise that she is very interested in the money, but she quickly becomes fearful that Maggie’s star will come to overshadow hers, so she goes on a mission to sabotage Maggie’s training so that she can still be the only Olympic medalist in Amherst, Ohio.
Now “The Bronze” gets off to a good start as Rauch digs deep into her character of Hope in a way that is fearless. We watch as Hope pleasures herself while watching an old video of her Olympic win, showing how she pretty much stopped aging mentally at that moment in time. She has no qualms about making Hope an unlikable character and yet one we find ourselves rooting for in a very weird way. She also engages in a gymnastic sex scene with her co-star Sebastian Stan, who plays her Olympic rival Lance Tucker, that has to be seen to be believed.
The problem is that “The Bronze” never extends above its level of crudeness to say anything intelligent or subversive about its character or how we view celebrity in this day and age. Rauch’s script, which she wrote with her husband Winston, looks to say something about our ridiculous obsession with fame, but it never really does. That’s a shame as the other characters continue to worship Hope even as she proves to be an insufferable bitch, and there’s something about that which isn’t all that surprising.
The movie does have some good moments especially between Rauch and Cole, an actor who’s always good for a laugh, as they try to connect in some way that will benefit the both of them. Had “The Bronze” been more about their relationship, it might have been better. But as it goes on it tries to show Hope’s vulnerabilities as it attempts, and fails, to show her personality changing for the better. Even if you think her personality does change, it isn’t by much and what we are left with is something you come out of feeling frustrated.
Still, watching “The Bronze” gives you an idea of how much of a comedic powerhouse Rauch can be, and here’s hoping she gets a role which better suits her talents in the near future. As much as heart as she put into this movie, “The Bronze” doesn’t do enough to make it to the podium and ends up becoming even more mediocre than Hope’s Olympic success.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016