“The Bronze” (2016) – “Too many times women try to be competitive with each other. We should help support each other, rather than try to be better than each other.” – Katarina Witt, Olympic medal winner, 1984 and 1988 Winter Olympics
“My dad’s probably one of the kindest people in the world. When I was younger that’s not how I was. I was a little spoiled brat.” – Leonardo DiCaprio
Named the Sandstone Center of the World, Amherst, Ohio sits 35 minutes west of Cleveland along the southern border of Lake Erie. In “The Bronze”, Amherst – with a population of about 12,000 – is also home to Olympic bronze medal winner, Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch). Hope won her medal in individual gymnastics at the 2004 Summer Games, and even though she placed third, she is still #1 in Amherst’s heart in 2016.
On the other hand, anyone actually liking Hope seems a bit of a mystery. With a stature not quite five feet high, a Tonya Hardingesque blonde hairstyle and sporting a stars and stripes Olympic jumpsuit, Hope carries a permanent scowl while stomping around town looking for freebies at the local mall or soda shack. Entitled and spoiled are good descriptors for Hope, as she lives sans employment and resides at her childhood home with her dad (Gary Cole), while he reads books in his spare time like, “Saying No – The Art to Raising a Responsible Adult”. Hope petulantly and figuratively walks, jumps and springs all over him while constantly spewing the “seven words you cannot say on television” with the vitriol of a miserable reality TV show star.
Hope’s self-promotion rules the day as director Bryan Buckley serves up a deliciously devilish and mean-spirited black comedy written by Rauch and her husband Winston. They successfully play up a heavy Americana-vibe from Hope’s diet of readily available pizza, Big Gulps and milkshakes to her birthday falling on the 4th of July. Buckley also introduces another tradition which has existed as long as humans have roamed the planet: a younger protégé arrives on the scene who threatens the prideful shine of the current star.
Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson) is a teenage gymnast – also living in Amherst – who bursts with oodles of talent and virginal naivety. She owns a squeaky-clean persona that would perfectly fit on a Disney Channel sitcom and loves God, her mom and gymnastics, and due to specific circumstances, Hope becomes her coach. This odd couple pairing mixes an explosive potion of jealousy and sarcasm. Maggie obediently listens to Hope’s deliberately bad advice (and even worse manners), as the coach bares certain and targeted ill-will.
Will Hope have a change of heart? Buckley presents the plot devices and the antagonist/protagonist lines in familiar and unspectacular means, but the writing and presence of colorful characters are especially effective. Rauch offers a highly entertaining performance as the colorfully-crass, fading superstar who discharges mean-spirited jabs that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush.
Hope can perfectly stick a vault landing but also give tactless motivational sayings like, “Early bird gets the sperm.”
Although the film revolves around women’s gymnastics, this is not a viewable flick for kids at all. The language and the most comically-athletic sex scene in recent movie history absolutely earns an R-rating, so parents, leave your kids at home. No matter how many years of gymnastics training they may have, nothing will prepare them for the tyrannical energy of Hope Ann Greggory. I have been around the R-rated movie block for decades, but Hope caused more than a few “Oh my G*d, that’s horrible” mumbles underneath my breath.
Yes, the movie’s writing and lead performances are its main strengths, but Buckley also pulls off a beautifully-crafted shot during Maggie’s floor exercise which captures the essence of coach and student in a surprisingly magical way. In a movie filled with purposeful bile, “The Bronze” also tenders a little bit of heart and earns a silver medal…and a free a slice a pizza.
Image credits: Sony Pictures Classics, Trailer credits: Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films (YouTube)