‘The Bronze’ and the explicit scene everyone’s buzzing about

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Bronze’: Sundance Review.

PARK CITY, Utah – John Cooper, Sundance’s director, was trying to introduce “The Bronze,” this year’s big opening-night feature, but members of the Eccles Theater audience were not done chatting. In the cranky, foul-mouthed tradition of bad grandpas, bad teachers, bad Santas and so forth, “The Bronze” unveils yet another vinegar-spirited comedic antihero: the bad sport.(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Melissa Rauch attends the premiere of “The Bronze,” directed by Bryan Buckley during the movie’s premiere at the Eccles Theatre in Park City, Thursday, January 22, 2015. The Bronze, the first feature from noted television commercial director Bryan Buckley, is under the misapprehension that this is all you need for a two-hour film.

Co-written by and starring The Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch as a frightful creature who makes Melissa McCarthy’s trademark characters look like the quintessence of elegant sophistication, the film stews in the bile of a small town former gymnastics medalist who’s lived in the past ever since and feels the need to spread her misery to everyone she encounters. Catapulting herself into the public eye, “The Big Bang Theory’s” Melissa Rauch stars as Hope Ann Greggory, an Olympic has-been who’s ridden the celebrity of her third-place gymnastics medal about as far as it will take her. Rauch and her husband Winston Rauch co-wrote the comedy about a former gymnast, washed-up and embittered a decade after winning the bronze medal — who learns a young gymnast is threatening her local celebrity status. But this crowd was not in a cooperative mood – right down to the reception of the film. “The Bronze” had a lot of momentum going into Thursday night’s premiere. Fans of the comedy of meanness and pure gross-out humor will provide a certain commercial base, although the film could easily use at least ten minutes removed to cut down on the redundant jokes and scenes.

While commercial enough to go the distance, Rauch’s caustic character sketch feels similarly over-stretched, landing easy laughs over and over with the same joke: a twisted take on the sort of America’s sweetheart even Tonya Tarding couldn’t tarnish. But cast back into the obscurity of her life in Amherst, Ohio, she has devolved into a tyrranical, pill-snorting monster who steals from her mail-carrier father and has nothing but spite and derision for every person she encounters. But when her old coach suddenly dies, Hope is given a chance to coach up-and-comer Maggie Thompson (Haley Lu Richardson), and either take her to the top, or sabotage her chances so Hope’s still the hero ’round town. But the reception in the theater, on Twitter following the premiere and in insta-reviews from the trades was tepid at best – giving the film not even a bronze medal but “one of those feel-good green ‘participant’ ribbons they hand out at politically correct competitions,” wrote the Variety critic Peter Debruge. The story is a ripoff of the HBO series Eastbound & Down, but instead of a narcissistic and foul washed-up baseball pitcher, it’s a narcissistic and foul washed-up gymnast.

Not every actress can handle the task as expertly as, say, Reese Witherspoon did in “Legally Blonde,” nor could most directors sell Rauch’s relatively thin range as effectively as first-time helmer Bryan Buckley. It’s no wonder that her supporting cast is all sycophants and doormats, the only breed of human who would spend more than a few minutes around this entitled, misanthropic, manipulative mess who is running out of ways to exist by simply being horrible. Along the way, Hope is also presented with two romantic options: Nerdy gym operator Ben (Thomas Middleditch) or her gold-medalist ex Lance (Sebastian Stan). Hope Greggory, as she is called, had a moment of international glory when she came back from a torn achilles heel during the Olympics to still win third place.

Anyone who as much as talks to Hope is liable to get their heads bitten off, even if she does speak in an annoyingly harsh and squeaky voice that emerges from of a thin, tightly pursed mouth. Writing in The Wrap, Steve Pond called it “an acrobatic hotel-room liaison so over-the-top that it’ll no doubt give the ratings board fits.” That puts it mildly. To put it bluntly, Hope is “a spoiled bitch,” as it takes her impossibly patient single father (Gary Cole) nearly the entire movie to tell her: Within the film’s first reel, she crushes and snorts allergy medicine, excoriates her dad, steals random kids’ birthday-card money from the mail, bullies a friendly Sbarro employee and tells off an aspiring young gymnast, all while sporting the same 3-inch bangs, teenybopper ponytail and red-white-and-blue warmup suit she wore a dozen years earlier. It’s just not the one you think, and that’s often the case with , which defies expectations and is loaded with genuinely gut-busting lines, rowdy raunch and the best sex sequence of this or any era.

The film enters its best stretch here, partly due to the unrestrained adolescent boisterousness of Richardson’s performance, as well as to Hope’s malevolent scheme of putting Maggie on an extra-fat diet, advising that she start getting it on with her boyfriend and otherwise doing all she can to insure that Maggie becomes such a dissolute cow that a continued athletic career is out of the question. Tipping its hand a bit too early, the script (which Rauch penned with husband Winston) indicates exactly how things will go when Hope receives a post-suicidal letter from Coach P (Christine E. In fact, that sex scene may singlehandedly sell this movie, just as may re-launch Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as both a comedic actor and an old-school male sex symbol. This is the money scene, one that gives the term gymnastic sex new and quite literal meaning as the two go at it in a swirl of amusingly athletic positions. Naturally, Hope despises the idea that someone from her own hometown — folksy Amherst, Ohio, where the film was actually shot — might steal her glory.

So, in a montage that really ought to be funnier, Hope instructs Maggie to spend her workout sessions “visualizing” her maneuvers (instead of actually practicing them), she practically pimps her out to the nearest horny teenager she can find (an inversion of Coach P’s “no boys” rule), and she takes her around to the unhealthiest junk-food establishments in town till the poor girl develops a beer gut. (Hope’s own diet of hamburgers and Fanta Orange soda suggests that perhaps a heavier-set actress would have conveyed how rough life has been since the character quit gymnastics.) While Hope cruelly sets about trying to sabotage the absurdly compliant young athlete’s chances, two guys appear on the scene with other plans. Occasional zingers from co-stars like Sebastian Stan as a rival coach and Thomas Middleditch as Hope’s assistant poke through and may rouse your from your stonefaced stupor. Longtime commercials ace Bryan Buckley, whose African-set short Asad was Oscar-nominated in 2013, brings energy to his directorial feature debut but precious little style. The first is the sweet, shy gym manager (Thomas Middleditch) who’s had a crush on Hope since her pre-Olympic days, and the other is the cocky, conquest-seeking gold-medalist (Sebastian Stan) who deflowered her a decade earlier, right after her big victory. There’s also an amusing (and quite randy) sex scene that finally answers the question: “How do gymnasts make love?” It’ll be well worth your time to search for this scene on YouTube in a year’s time.

The two characters are a study in opposites, each motivated to see Maggie succeed, both hoping to win Hope over in the process — though only one will have the privilege, resulting in what’s sure to be the funniest (not to mention most athletic) onscreen hookup of the year. There are entire sequences that border on brilliant, dialogue that is edgy even by Sundance standards, and with a character who, for better or worse, will be a hero — err, unapologetically severe antihero — to many.

Few directors have had more practical experience coming in to their debut feature than Buckley, who’s directed more Super Bowl commercials than there have been Super Bowls, in addition to helming the Oscar-nominated short “Asad.” He’s more confident than most in terms of how to light, shoot and cut a first-time comedy, and though no one would accuse “The Bronze” of not being funny, it somehow manages not to be funny often enough. Like the attention-hogging character she plays, Rauch has given Hope nearly all the funny lines, while expecting the rest of the cast to set up her outrageous, off-color retorts, which grows grating and a bit one-note over time. Even so, by relying on physical comedy, “Silicon Valley” star Middleditch manages to hold his own, more than earning his character’s “Twitchy” nickname as he milks the awkward fellow’s facial tic for all it’s worth. It already seems as if Buckley and the Rauch couple crack up at the very idea of the character, which imagines what kind of personality someone as adorable as pocket-sized Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson might have when the cameras aren’t rolling. There are almost two separate concepts operating here: The first riffs on Andy Warhol’s old “15 minutes of fame” theory, speculating how glory-seekers cope once the world’s attention moves on, while the second pokes fun at anyone who derives self-importance from second-rate (or third-place) achievement.

Camera (color), Scott Henriksen; editors, James Nelson, John Nau; music, Andrew Feltenstein; production designer, David Skinner; art supervisor, Debbie Stratis; set decorator, Roxy Topirowych; costume designer, Michelle Martini; sound, Marlowe Taylor; sound designer, Chris Diebold; supervising sound editor, Steven Iba; re-recording, Jason Gaya; visual effects producer, Phil Crowe; visual effects supervisors, Grant Miller, David Lebensfeld; visual effects, Ingenuity Engine, Jogger VFX; stunt coordinator, Kristin Baskett; assistant director, Daniel Katzman; casting, Jeanne McCarthy.

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