If you’ve seen the trailer for Bryan Buckley’s The Bronze, you have probably have decided against this film. While I can’t exactly encourage you to rethink matters, I will say that the film is considerably better than the trailer — at least eventually. The first 40 minutes is pretty much in the key established by the trailer, which is to say, fitfully amusing and with no hint of a character to much care about in sight. It milks the concept of presenting Melissa Rauch (from TV’s The Big Bang Theory) as former Olympic bronze medalist gymnast Hope Gregory, a self-absorbed, foul-mouthed, downright mean creature living on the fumes of her past third-place glory for far more than it’s worth. Yes, some of it is funny — like Hope stealing birthday card money out of her mailman dad’s (Gary Cole) truck and her ability to retain local celebrity status (mostly limited to a parking space, free milkshakes and apparent shoplifting privileges). But it’s also unpleasant, shrill and forced, and 40 minutes of that tone is more than enough.
However, if you stick with The Bronze, it morphs into something more palatable in its second half — more ordinary perhaps, but definitely more likable. I suspect that Rauch and her co-writer husband Winston think they have crafted something fresher and more surprising than they have. (If you can’t guess the second-act twist, I will be mightily surprised.) But, ultimately, they’ve come up with a pretty standard personal-redemption romantic comedy that’s only moderately different thanks to a high-gloss coat of raunchiness. Frankly, considering the tone of the earlier sections, that’s probably in the film’s favor.
The basic notion is that Hope’s standing as the local celebrity is challenged by up-and-coming young gymnast Maggie Townsend (TV actress Haley Lu Richardson) — a perpetually sunny Mary Lou Retton type who, of course, dotes on Hope. When her coach (who was also Hope’s coach) dies, Hope gets sucked into training Maggie on the strength of a promise of a $500,000 inheritance from her old coach if she does. Since the bequest makes it clear that results don’t matter, only that Hope see the job through, she opts to be endlessly offensive and sabotage her trusting young charge. Events prevent this when Hope’s old nemesis, gold medal gymnast Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan), threatens to take over the training. Hope cleans up her act and, with the aid of nerdy Ben Lowfort (Thomas Middleditch) — whom Hope calls “Twitchy” because of his facial tic — manages the job, creating her own worst nightmare in the process.
Chances are you can guess how all this will play out (including the second twist previously noted, though you might miss the other twist), but that doesn’t keep The Bronze from being a fairly appealing film in the final analysis. It’s even pretty shrewd in managing the inevitable transformation of Hope, although it does fall prey to the standard rom-com penultimate reel of gloom. I may be overrating the film a little, since it turned out so much better than it appeared it was going to. And it is by no means flawless. That first 40 minutes weighs heavily over it, and first-time feature helmer Bryan Buckley (best known for Super Bowl ads) isn’t able to sustain the feeling of a consistent tone. (In fairness, he has made a nice-looking film that captures small-town America, and is clearly sympathetic to his characters.) But the simple truth is that I enjoyed The Bronze far more than I didn’t. Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout and some drug use.