The Bronze has been getting terrible reviews since it first premiered at Sundance last year. Telling the story of an Olympic bronze medalist who has grown up to be bitter and angry, The Bronze has been unfavorably compared to Bad Santa, Bad Words, Bad Teacher and … well, bad anything. (You know you’re in trouble when your film gets compared to Bad Teacher because most critics have an irrational hatred for that film. I actually enjoyed it.) The Bronze was originally scheduled to be released last July and then it was pushed back and then, for a little while, it vanished all together as it was traded between different distributors. Finally, last Friday, Sony Pictures Classics released The Bronze with all the fanfare of a community theater announcing their annual production of Forever Plaid.
Well, after hearing how terrible it was, there was no way that my BFF Evelyn and I could resist the temptation to experience it for ourselves. (We both enjoy watching and commenting during bad movies. That’s what led to us watching that Tyler Perry movie about the adulterous matckmaker .) We caught a 10:15 showing last night at the AMC Valley View and the theater was almost totally deserted. (Admittedly, not many people are brave enough to go to Valley View Mall past 9:00 but Evelyn and I fear nothing.) We were expecting to see a thoroughly mediocre film but you know what?
We were both kind of surprised to discover that The Bronze was not the terrible film that we had been led to expect.
Melissa Rauch (who co-wrote the script) plays Hope Ann Gregory, a former Olympic gymnast who won the Bronze medal at the Summer Olympics. She won the medal despite competing on an injured ankle. Unfortunately, her injury ended her competitive career but it also briefly made her a national celebrity. 12 years later, most of the country may have forgotten Hope but the people of hometown of Amherst, Ohio still love her.
When we first meet Hope, she’s masturbating while watching footage of herself competing at the Olympics. She then proceeds to steal money from her father’s mail route so she’ll have enough money to buy weed. Hope is rude to almost everyone and yet, no one in the town seems to notice. Or maybe they are so happy to be in the presence of a minor celebrity that they just don’t care how terribly she treats them. The movie is actually somewhat vague on this point but still, the contrast between Hope’s reality and the opinion that others have of her is one of the best things about the film. Intentionally or not, it perfectly satirizes that way that we idealize our celebrities.
When Hope’s former coach commits suicide, her final request is that Hope agree to train an up-and-coming gymnast, Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson). At first, the jealous Hope tries to sabotage Maggie but eventually, Hope starts to take her job as coach seriously. (When Maggie first shows up, she seems to be a one-note, excessively perky character but eventually, she reveals some needed, if not exactly surprising, complexity.) Hope also develops an unexpected relationship with Maggie’s assistant coach, Twitchy (Thomas Middleditch). (Twitchy is called Twitchy because he blinks a lot.)
The Bronze is not a great film. Instead, it’s an extremely uneven film, one that often seems to be trying too hard. It never manages to find the right balance between its raunchy comedy and the occasional and surprisingly subtle moments when it suddenly becomes a character study.
And yet, at the same time, it’s not as terrible as you’ve heard. There are moments that work surprisingly well. Some of them are moments like an enjoyably over-the-top sex scene between two gymnasts. But then there are moments like the scene where Hope talks about the first time she learned that, as a result of the injury she sustained while winning her Bronze, she would never be able to compete again. There are scenes like the one where Hope proves herself to be surprisingly loyal to the citizens of Amherst or where her long-suffering father (Gary Cole) confronts her about her behavior. Though these moments may be few and far between, they still work surprisingly well. It’s during these moments that The Bronze drops the protective mask of outrageousness and reveals some unexpected depth. It helps that, along with writing the script, Melissa Rauch totally commits herself to the role. At her best, she’s like a force of stoned nature.
Is The Bronze really worth seeing on the big screen? Probably not. It’s too uneven to really be successful. But when it shows up on Netflix, I predict that a lot of people are going to be surprised to discover that The Bronze isn’t as terrible as they’ve been told.