“Wickedly funny”

by Steve Pulaski

The Bronze opens with Melissa Rauch’s cranky and unapologetically vulgar character Hope Ann Greggory fiercely masturbating to a videotape of her perfectly executing a complex gymnastics routine while injured to be awarded the bronze medal at a gymnastics competition in Toronto in 2004. That is probably the most seriously any spectator has ever taken gymnastics in history. That was twelve years ago, but that fact does little to phase her. She still parades around her small, podunk town of Amherst, Ohio in her USA outfit owning her celebrity status, as she is a regular at a local mall and the diner where she never pays for anything and has drink and food specials in her honor.

Hope lives with her father Stan (Gary Cole), a geeky postman who’s only companion is his goldfish Bradley. Stan is tired of Hope constantly lying around with no sense of responsibility and no prospects to get employed or seek employment. However, when her former gymnastics coach commits suicide, right in the middle of training Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), who is looking to surpass Hope in the Olympics, the offer of Hope’s lifetime comes – her deceased coach offers her a will of $500,000 if she trains Maggie to as far as she can go. Appropriately, Hope smacks her gum, shrugs her shoulders, curses a bit, and goes back to her room to sulk.

Upon initially meeting Maggie, Hope decides to steer her off course of her rigorous training, by getting her to indulge in boys and an unconscionable amount of fast food. After mixing government-grade marijuana in her protein shake leads her to performing poorly in front of the coordinator, a former acquaintance and partner of Hope’s, Hope winds up getting serious about training Maggie to go for gold. Some of it is because she wants to remain relevant in the eyes of the public, a small part of it is to stick it to her old flame, but most of it is for the money.

Melissa Rauch is absolutely excellent here; after riding a recurring role on CBS’s Big Bang Theory for many years, she has the ability to break out and prove what she can do in a starring role. Her fiercely confident screen presence is noticeable from the very beginning, and her crass and vulgar seems to genuinely come from her personality rather than her momentary desire to be crude, which is so very rare, yet a subtle difference maker when it comes to comedies. Most films have actors, Robert De Niro in Dirty Grandpa and Rebel Wilson in How to Be Single, as of late are thrust into these kind of compromising positions and are forced to subject themselves to mindless antics.

The Bronze
Directed by
Bryan Buckley
Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson
Release Date
18 March 2016
Steve’s Grade: B+

Maybe it’s because she’s a co-writer, but Rauch winds up getting a lot of strong freedom in the way of physicality (particularity during a raunchy, acrobatic sex scene) and dialog-driven humor, where she sells her ability to be both youthful and high-spirited so very well. With just one movie role, she sits comfortably alongside the likes of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Greta Gerwig for most interesting actresses.

Because of Rauch’s wonderful performance, The Bronze really proves that it’s more about the vulgar and black comedy it so cheerfully concocts; it’s about a person trying to remain relevant and, as a result, remaining stuck in a state of listlessness and no ambition. Even as unlikable as Hope can be, it’s clear how unhappy she is as a person; she’s not just mean-spirited for the sake of being mean-spirited. Rauch and her husband Winston, who serves as co-writer, are sure to concoct plenty of uproariously funny sequences involving Hope trying to train Maggie and operate as a responsible coach, but the underlying sadness of her character’s situation isn’t lost on them, which makes The Bronze much better than what it could’ve been.

Compare the film to The Brothers Grimsby, the new, desperately unfunny Sacha Baron Cohen film, which predicates itself on gross-out humor that gets it nowhere and leaves it an empty shell of a comedy. There’s no substance and no staying power after you see it. The Bronze cares enough about its character to give it some sort of life outside of what is expected of a silly, springtime comedy, and has enough respect for its leading actress to give her a wickedly funny showcase of her talent.

NOTE: After premiering at Sundance in January 2015, The Bronze was expected to be released into theaters shortly after, but had distribution conflicts with Relativity filing for bankruptcy, resulting in the film being picked up by Sony Pictures Classics and Jay and Mark Duplass’s production company (which is so fitting when you think about it) for a semi-wide release this month. Without the help of some loyal movie cultists and some generally optimistic souls, I’m afraid this film may not have a chance to reach the audience it deserves.