For a comedy to work, the humor must be convincing within the established world of the film. Unfortunately, while Bryan Buckley’s Sundance opener “The Bronze” has some emotional resonance, it comes up short on its most crucial ingredient: the laughs.
Much of the hype surrounding “The Bronze” ahead of its Sundance premiere centered on comparisons to 2004’s “Napoleon Dynamite,” as though the idea of another knock-off were a compliment. Though Napoleon’s tired one-liners have long since overstayed their welcome in pop culture, at least the annoying antics of its characters manage to be somewhat believable. The character played by Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”) — who co-wrote (with Winston Rauch) “The Bronze,” is an uninspired creation that feels like Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression in a “Little Britain” sketch.
Rauch plays Hope Annabelle Greggory, a 2004 Olympian bronze medalist in gymnastics who has been the pride of her town ever since winning her medal on a weak foot. Over a decade following her claim to fame, she’s continued to live in her single father’s (“Veep” actor Gary Cole) house, relying on his allowance and occasional petty thefts. The catalyst for her character’s growth is in the potential for a large sum of inheritance following the tragic suicide of her former coach and mother figure — so long as she agrees to train a young woman who could overshadow her Olympian glory.
Out of this threat to her pride, she sabotages the training of this young girl (Haley Lu Richardson) until she receives several more terrible incentives that force her to behave somewhat responsibly.
Among those incentives: the threat that she will not receive her expected inheritance if her new protégé fails to reach Olympic trial, and a long rivalry with a former gold-medalist played by Sebastian Stan (the Winter Soldier in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), who attempts to stage a coup as the young athlete’s new coach upon witnessing Hope’s mistreatment of her.
This perfectly valid introduction to his character makes way for a second-act shift into a mustache-twirling antagonist, eventually forcing a breakup of her and a potential new beau (played by “Silicon Valley” star Thomas Middleditch) with an impressively staged gymnastic sex scene that involves a drunken Hope. The dedication of the two actors is arguably the film’s most impressive moment, but narratively it only serves to muddle Hope’s character motivations even further.
Which is a shame, since her romance with Middleditch’s character provides a touching centerpiece to the narrative. Middleditch mostly pulls off his character’s twitchy and awkward nature, which only makes it more affecting in the moments when his character brings out Hope’s humanity during their first date at a closed food court.
For a comedy of such misjudged tones, Rauch is best when she plays up Hope’s dramatic tendencies rather than her comedic side. But the movie can’t keep up the pace. It’s not worth spoiling whether or not the two lovebirds manage to wind up back together in a forced and cheesy resolution — you’ll have to find that out for yourself.
“The Bronze” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this week.