Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kind of a Big Deal

Dashed dreams are a f----up.

Just ask Hope Annabelle Greggory, the not-all-that-nice once-brilliant gymnast at the not-so-sweet heart of the Sundance-approved independent comedy The Bronze that Screen Actors Guild Award nominee Melissa Rauch (a.k.a. not Kaley Cuoco or Blossom from TV’s The Big Bang Theory) portrays with delicious foul-mouthed-ness. She’ll tell ya.

Y see, Hope Ann from small-town, modest-minded Armherst, Ohio, is a big-chip-on-her-shoulder type o has-been.

She’s a mean little thing who still walks around town in her warm-up suit like she’s some kind o’ winner, cashing in all the free hometown-hero s--- she was promised once upon a time. She’s emotionally stunted, trapped in a moment she can’t get out of, and entitled. She lives at home with her played-by-Gary Cole mailman-dad, who raised her on his own the best he knew how after her mom died when she was 5 1/2 months old, and who puts up with all of her insults and crap, even with her federal-crime thieving from his mailbag. Worst of all, she’s totally fine with keeping things the way they are, thankyouverymuch.

Hope Ann’s days start, believe it or not, with her masturbating to her own one glory day, to tape of her powering through the fictitious Rome 2004 Olympics, where an injury prevented her from going all the way for gold. She won bronze then, a feat widely heralded as a miracle for America, and the ticket she’s been ridin’ on ever since.

Now, probably like, two Olympics later, new blood threatens to upstage her, to make her a definite thing of the past. To take her spotlight in Armherst.

And you know it, Hope Ann ain’t gonna have none of that.

A plot twist nudges our anti-heroine to coach young, bright up-and-comer Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson, from ABC Family’s Ravenswood) for the upcoming Toronto Olympics. Of course, Hope Ann has her selfish reasons to even consider doing this: 500,000 of ’em – as in $500,000, if she gets Maggie through her games.

Given that she’s now used to getting her way with minimal effort (third place has taken her a long way), The Bronze, which Rauch co-wrote with her husband Winston), busies itself at first with all the shades of All About Eve-esque dynamics between the two women it can muster, with how Hope Ann takes advantage of the trust Maggie blindly gifts her idol. Soon enough, though, we see something re-awaken in the old-timer, thanks to a carefully telegraphed budding romance with Ben, a twitchy, yet caring young man from her past she barely remembers portrayed by Thomas Middleditch (HBO’s Silicon Valley).

Ben humanizes and adultizes – yeah, I just made up that word – Hope Ann in unexpected ways. He can’t really fix her potty mouth or help her come to terms with the past (only she can do that), but he begins to illuminate her psychology for us, and, thus, for her. Little by little, Hope Ann begins to come into her own as a grown-up, albeit reluctantly, but old habits die hard.

When Lance Tucker, a former gold medalist with a giant ego enters the scene (hello, Sebastian Stan), Hope Ann regresses into dangerous territory. And when the jig is up on why she’s really helping Maggie, Hope Ann all but runs into Lance’s arms, which results in a quite-graphic and beyond-hilariously acrobatic sex scene. No good for Ben.

The Bronze reflects the character the Rauches have constructed very well. It is amusing for a while, deeply dark (darker than anyone could imagine at face value, anyway), and flawed. The cast that they and director Bryan Buckley (a celebrated helmer of Super Bowl commercials making his feature-film debut) have assembled, though (which includes SNL’s Cecily Strong), is there for the breakthrough, just as people are in real life for athletes.

While this is Rauch’s Transamerica moment (you get it: a TV actress going way against the grain for the silver screen), she probably won’t be nominated for an Academy Award like Felicity Huffman once was. No doubt in mind, however, she should be noticed and considered more carefully moving forward. Her go-for-broke work here is committed when it comes to the F-bombs, and surprising where the uncorked drama that is Hope Annabelle Greggory is concerned.

My Rating **1/2

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics.

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