Sundance Review: THE BRONZE Doesn’t Qualify, Let Alone Medal

The 'dark' comedy set in the world of gymnastics doesn't even get up on the balance beam. 

It isn’t just that The Bronze is bad, it’s that at two hours it’s punishingly bad, a movie that keeps grinding on, daring you to sit through its overly-familiar dark comedy and deal with a whole coterie of good actors being wasted on a script that thinks giving Gary Cole’s character a pet goldfish that he loves too much is a funny swipe at the quirkiness of these sorts of Sundance comedies.

The Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch (who co-wrote the movie) is Hope Annabelle Greggory, a national team gymnast (it seems they didn’t try to get the rights to use The Olympics) who brought glory to her small Ohio town when she bronzed in 2004. Her third place finish came despite a serious ankle injury, and Hope’s Miracle became a national sensation. But now, ten years later, she’s still living in that past glory - literally masturbating to the tape of the event while wearing her national team warm-up suit. Her dad, Gary Cole, is unable to stop enabling her, and the rest of her town views her with a mix of disdain and misplaced hero worship.

Through events that are too tedious to describe, Hope must coach her town’s newest gymnastics hopeful, and while at first she tries to sabotage the kid’s training in order to maintain her own status, by the end she learns to work as a team and become a coach and etcetera. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to get there, unfortunately - and then the movie just keeps going.

The clear template for this film is the oeuvre of Jody Hill, with Foot Fist Way and Eastbound and Down looming large (there’s some mall stuff that will helpfully remind you of the infinitely superior Observe and Report), but the grab-bag script tries to add in mandolin-scored indie quirk (Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch is Hope’s assistant/love interest/guy with a funny facial tic) and some Zucker/Abrams/Zucker-riffing absurdity. The film succeeds at none of these, and the slapstick sex scene that has brought buzz out of the first screening is just a Naked Gun outtake, and feels totally out of place in the face of the previous three and a half hours of the film.

Rauch creates a broad, cartoony character in Hope who would be better served in a series of Saturday Night Live sketches. She’s basically a version of Tonya Harding, with all of the irritating nastiness that implies. I didn’t know that Rauch was on The Big Bang Theory when I saw the film, but it all makes sense now - The Bronze is a movie that fans of that garbage will find scandalously dark and edgy.

Sebastian Stan is a sleazy competing gymnastics coach who escaped from a Will Ferrell/Adam McKay movie, and he’s funny enough. Middleditch’s Twitchy (yes) is the closest the film gets to a real character, and you feel him being wasted like expensive champagne being poured into a sewer. Gary Cole - well, I’m glad he’s getting work, as you just like seeing him in a movie.

Director Bryan Buckley - famous for Super Bowl ads - makes the film look handsome (every dime is on screen) but he can’t get any comic timing to work, and most jokes fall even flatter than they probably did in the DOA script.
Halfway through The Bronze my friend turned to me and said ‘There’s another hour of this yet,’ and I feel like that sums up the largely laugh-free, excruciating experience of the film. We watched the rest of the movie, if only to count up the number of egregious instances of Sbarro’s product placement.

So basically if you like The Big Bang Theory and Sbarro’s, this is your Foot Fist Way