Filmed on location at the 2018 Winter Games, Olympic Dreams tells the story of two lost souls.
Penelope (Alexi Pappas) is a skier who competes early and doesn’t win a medal. Ignored by the media and unsure of how to talk to her fellow athletes (or, for that matter, anyone else that she meets), Penelope is left with little else to do but explore Pyeongchang and have an existential crisis about what the future means. She’s 22, which is an age when many amateur athletes are retiring and transitioning into the next stage of their life. Of course, it would be a lot easier to do that if Penelope was leaving South Korea with a gold medal in her luggage.
Ezra (Nick Kroll) is a dentist who is volunteering at the Olympics. He’s 37 and is having as much of an existential crisis as Penelope. If Penelope’s problem is that she often struggles to talk to other people, Ezra’s problem is that he talks too much. He’s constantly talking but, in the end, he’s just as socially awkward as Penelope.
Eventually, Ezra and Penelope meet and they explore South Korea and they discuss the big issues of life and it looks like they might even be falling in love. Along the way, both Ezra and Penelope also meet and talk to a lot of real-life Olympians, all of whom play themselves.
I have to admit that, at first, I found Olympic Dreams to be a bit off-putting. I was kind of dreading having to watch yet another socially awkward love story and Ezra seemed like such a whiny character that I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend any amount of time dealing with him and his issues. The film had an improvised feel, which was a bit of a mixed blessing. Some people in the film were better at improvising than others. Nick Kroll, for instance, has been performing for a while and obviously knows how to think on his feet. Alexi Pappas was also a surprisingly adroit performer. However, many of the real-life Olympians that they interacted with had this sort of deer-in-the-headlights look about them that made it obvious why they became athletes as opposed to actors.
That said, Olympic Dreams did eventually win me over. Once Ezra stopped complaining all the time and Penelope started to get a little bit more assertive, it became easier to sympathize with the characters and to hope that they managed to find some sort of meaning in their lives. The 2nd half of the film, in which both Ezra and Penelope realized that they were going to have to go back to the “normal” world in just a few more days, was really nicely done and the film’s final shot was far more effective than I was expecting it to be.
Whether intentional or not, Olympic Dreams has a lot in common with Lost In Translation. In fact, I’d argue that it has a bit too much in common with Lost In Translation. Olympic Dreams sometimes seems to be struggling to escape from that earlier film’s shadow. That said, Olympic Dreams is uneven but ultimately effective. And, if nothing else, it’s full of behind-the-scenes footage of the 2018 Winter Games so fans of the Olympics should enjoy it.