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Sundance Review: In ‘The Bronze’ a Self-Obsessed Small Town Hero Turns Would-be Coach

Sundance Review: In 'The Bronze' a Self-Obsessed Small Town Hero Turns Would-be Coach

The world loves triumphant stories and the winners behind them. Heroes bathed in self-sacrifice for the greater goal, for their country’s honor or simply for the
bragging rights. These are the individuals that inspire the stuff of legends. Their achievements become part of the collective consciousness and somehow,
even as intangible as they become, everyday people feel connected to these beloved figures. Every sports team relies on the blind loyalty of their
followers, because winning wouldn’t be as fun for the players without the adoration of thousands of people screaming their names. Glory is a crucial
currency in our competitive society, a fact that is evident in Oscar-nominated filmmaker Bryan Buckley’s outrageously comedic debut feature “ The Bronze.”

Overly revered ex-gymnast Hope Greggrory (Melissa Rauch) is Amherst, Ohio’s pride and joy. The townspeople go out of their way to fulfill her every need,
from a milkshake to her preferred brand of painkillers, even though she’s milked their kindness for years. Hope is a leech, and she revels in knowing that
she is in fact the most famous person in this place. The source of all the love for her is the bronze medal she earned at the fictitious 2004 Rome Winter
Olympics. Yes, third place is certainly not the most coveted achievement for an athlete, but for Ms. Gregory, the circumstance around that victory
elevated her feat to martyrdom. She finished the event after a significant injury and was carried to the podium by her Russian coach – a mother figure for the
motherless Hope.

Her mailman father, Stan (Gary Cole), is unable to set boundaries and to let her see the entitled train wreck she has become. He finds refuge in his
unilateral friendship with a goldfish, which is reminiscent of Rufus’ gnome in Jeunet’s “Amelie.” Unfazed by her father’s concern, Hope is
bafflingly self-assured and refuses to acknowledge that her past distinctions are mostly forgotten outside the microcosm that is her hometown. Hope’s
photograph hangs in every Amherst business as a symbol of the unlikely miracle she pulled off. But that image of a lovely girl is all gone now. Washed up
might be too much of a euphemism to describe her current status driven by despicable behavior and unfounded arrogance. Just in case anybody has the audacity
to question her magnificent past, she wears her original training suit and had her license plate custom-made to denote that she “bronzed.” Winning the gold
probably wouldn’t have been as memorable.

The first slight hint of sympathy we get from the foul-mouthed Olympian comes when she learns that her estrange coach has committed suicide. Their
relationship fell apart when Hope wasn’t able to keep up with the demanding training after her injury. Even more shocking is the coach’s last wish. On a mysterious letter she requests Hope trains local, promising gymnast, Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson). In return she will get half a million dollars once she gets her to the big leagues. The money is temping, but there is no room for too celebrity
gymnasts in this town, especially when there is a chance the rising star might reach for something greater than the bronze.

Not expecting much from annoyingly sweet Maggie, malicious Hope decides to guide her down a road ridden with fast food, marihuana, and old Avril Lavigne CDs as
soundtrack. As Hope’s deliberately failed coaching approach crashes, a love triangle develops between the gym’s owner Ben (played by charming Thomas Middleditch), a kindhearted young man to whom
Hope refers to as “Twitchy” because of an obvious medical condition, and Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan), an Olympic Gold-winning gymnast who is as cocky and obnoxious as
Hope, but with more merits to brag about. Old grudges, newfound love, extreme competitiveness, and Hope’s fear to become irrelevant bolster this uproarious saga.

Written by Rauch herself, the screenplay decides not to avoid certain clichés towards its final minutes and delivers some expected redemption without much
room for a non-fairytale ending. Having said that, “The Bronze” is by far one of the most laugh-out-loud, choke-in-you-chair, deliciously
tasteless films I’ve seen in years. Rauch is an absolute riot. The actress never misses a bit in the delivery of one acid, repugnant, and outright
vulgar statement after another. Every line that comes out of her mouth is comedy gold of the crudest kind, and yet she is so brilliantly crass in the role
that is not hard to develop a love-hate relationship with her character within the first five minutes.

Understandably so, there will be people who are appalled by the unapologetic and hilariously aberrant behavior on screen. References to “clit juice,”
“camel toes” or someone’s taint being ripped off, are just a few of the numerous memorable lines that are sure to raise some eyebrows. Hope is no worse
than tons of characters in macho-infused comedies, but the fact that she is a woman unafraid of her sexuality and as ballsy, self-centered, and remorseless as
many of her male counterparts might not sit well with some. Hope is perhaps one of the most unlikeable, yet female empowering film characters in recent years.
Not because she is often oblivious to how terrible she is, but because is allowed to be that bad of a person like many men in film are. She is an awful
person, but at least she is given that choice.

Adding to Rauch’s marvelously frank performance is Sebastian Stan as Lance. They are two halves of the same rotten apple, and they hate each other for
being so alike. In what is perhaps the pinnacle of the film’s scandalous humor, the two of them partake in what should go down as one of the most
hysterical sex scenes ever put on screen. Audiences will lose their mind over its repulsive ingenuity, and rightfully so.

While the “The Bronze” is a relentless parade of rivetingly creative cussing, there are just enough contemplative moments to observe Hope
as the insecure, directionless, and even pathetic person she is. Her best days are behind her and as she desperately tries to hold on to them, she is
forced to realize that is a nobody once again in the eyes of the world. Buckle’s film is piercingly raunchy in the best way possible, so much that by the
time the textbook romance kicks in, it’s already too unimportant to make one forget how much fun the entire film was. It’ll be hard for another comedy this
year to include this many quotable one-liners. Sleeping on your laurels has never been this f***ing hilarious.

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