Sebastian Stan in The Bronze
He is not the star, but the only part of this movie you care about is the much-ballyhooed sex scene between Sebastian Stan’s gold-medal winning gymnast, Lance Tucker, and Melissa Rauch’s bronze medalist, Hope Ann Greggory. So does it live up to all that Sundance hype? Pretty much, yeah. It’s not so much sexy as it is literally balls to the wall crazy, with Lance and Hope flipping and gyrating across a hotel room as they mount each other in various weird contortiony positions. At one point, he does a pommel horse routine off her ass—as a sight gag, it works.
If only the rest of the movie worked as well as that one scene. Co-written by Rauch—best known as Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory, but also an alumnus of the Upright Citizens Brigade—and her husband, Winston Rauch, The Bronze has a solid premise but it simply can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be. There are shades of any number of other, better films here from Drop Dead Gorgeous to Observe and Report to Eastbound & Down to anything out of the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay oeuvre. The influences and intent are clear, but the execution is just terrible.
But the idea itself isn’t bad. Rauch stars as Hope, a washed-up Olympic hero who won a bronze medal after suffering a Kerri Strug-ish ankle injury. Ten years on, Hope is living in her dad’s basement, jilling off to a tape of her victorious moment, and at first The Bronze seems like it will be a movie about weirdos who live in basements, like a Duplass Brothers’ movie—indeed, they are the producers of this movie. But the Duplassi specialize in comedies of the intensely weird, and Hope isn’t weird, she’s just an asshole. The firm of Rauch & Rauch seem to think that a cute blonde swearing a lot is in itself a joke, but we’re twenty years past that. Every place you instinctively feel ought to be filled with a joke is instead just Hope cursing and belittling people.
I’m down with a female protagonist who’s an asshole. After giving up on the Duplass Brothers angle, I thought maybe The Bronze would be like Drop Dead Gorgeous—a look at some twisted, broken people who occupy this intense niche in sports—except The Bronze would focus on the Becky Leeman character instead of Amber Atkins. But we don’t spend enough time with the world of gymnastics for that. We’re too focused on Hope and her redemption through coaching a young prodigy, Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson, who is super fun on screen).
There’s a lot of darkness in The Bronze, particularly about how the end of her Olympic dream cut off Hope’s development. She’s living in a state of perpetual adolescence, and she touches on the long-term damage gymnastics did to her body, too. But that doesn’t really go anywhere. We don’t see any of that playing out in next-gen Maggie, except that Hope wants to get her fat as a means of sabotage, because their tiny Ohio town can only support one local hero. Half the movie wants to be raunchy, slapstick humor, and half the movie wants to be a dark not-comedy about what happens after you realize your dream at age twenty. Commit in either direction and you come out with a good movie, but splitting the difference just makes for an unsatisfying result all the way around.
And it’s a criminal waste of talent. Rauch can hold the screen as a lead, but she wrote herself a terrible, unwatchable character. Cecily Strong is completely wasted as Maggie’s mother, as is Gary Cole as Hope’s dad. Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) almost makes his character Twitchy—so called because he has a facial tic GET IT—work, and Stan rolls in like he’s from another movie altogether. Those two have a couple brief exchanges that for a moment do turn The Bronze into that Drop Dead Gorgeous version about the f*cked up people living in a high-pressure bubble, which just makes you resent the rest of the movie for not being as good as the two minutes Stan and Middleditch share. The Bronze is an unfunny, overlong parade of squandered potential. It’s extremely frustrating.