Like a piece of hard candy that turns out to have a very soft center, “The Bronze” proves just another comedy about a nasty, self-centered person who experiences a third-act redemption of sorts. It’s also typical of the current crop of comedies in being extremely foul-mouthed, down through the song warbled over the closing credits. That makes one wonder whether Melissa Rauch, the writer-star, might not accidentally have dropped an “n” from her surname.
Raunch—sorry, Rauch—plays Hope Ann Gregory, an American gymnast who insisted on finishing her set at the 2004 Olympics even after seriously injuring her ankle and was rewarded with a third-place medal. Ever since she’s cashed in on her brief moment of fame in her small Ohio town, parading around in her team outfit and vulgarly demanding special treatment from everyone, especially her mailman dad (Gary Cole), whom she browbeats endlessly (and from whose truck she steals letters containing cash).
After the suicide of her former coach (Christine E. Abraham), the owner of the local gym from whom she’d become estranged, Hope receives a posthumous letter from the woman, offering her half a million dollars to train her student, young Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), a local lass who looks to have championship potential.
Caught between her greed and her desire to maintain her status as the sole celebrity in Amherst, Hope takes on the coaching task but deliberately tries to sabotage Maggie’s chances, encouraging her to eat fattening food, linking her up with a boyfriend to ruin her concentration and trashing her training regimen. In the process, however, she becomes reacquainted with the sweet manager of the gym, Ben (Thomas Middleditch), whom she dismissively calls Twitchy because of a facial tic but who obviously has long had a crush on her, and he begins to break down her crusty exterior. Meanwhile the intervention of an old rival, gold medalist Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan), threatens her half-million bounty: seeing how Hope has turned Maggie into a plump non-starter, he tries to take over coaching her himself—and is willing to go to extremes to win.
It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is heading. Hope gradually realizes that she has to change her life and look to the future rather than the past. It’s a bumpy ride, though, which involves working Maggie back into shape, warming up to Ben, and coming to terms with a shocking revelation by her father. It also requires her to oversee her protégé’s performance at a competition in Toronto—a sequence that shows the picture’s modest budget by resembling a high-school event more than an Olympic contest. There’s a twist at the end, but not an especially satisfying (or credible) one.
“The Bronze” is obviously intended as a big-screen calling-card for both Rauch and first-time feature director Bryan Buckley, a commercials specialist moving to bigger things here. It’s a mixed bag for both of them. Rauch has come up with a promising premise, but her treatment of it is both too shrill and simply not funny enough. Her performance, moreover, is generally one-note, relying overmuch on a stream of foul language for laughs. In the end, moreover, the picture doesn’t have the courage of its mean-spiritedness, because Hope goes squishy in the end.
As to Buckley, he does an adequate job but little more. He certainly doesn’t bring much visual zest to the proceedings; he and cinematographer Scott Henriksen seem satisfied with just getting the shots without investing them with any particular style. The editing by James Nelson and John Nau comes across as lackadaisical; the movie certainly overstays its welcome.
Apart from Rauch, the cast standouts are Middleditch, who makes Ben a figure of dopey charm, and Cole, who underplays nicely. Richardson is saddled with a rather dense character and is simply okay, while Stan takes a very broad approach to mediocre effect.
It should be obvious from all this that while “The Bronze” tries hard, it’s hardly a prize-winner.