'The Bronze': Sundance Review

Raunch and bad attitude rule in this potty-mouthed comedy.

Longtime commercials ace Bryan Buckley brings energy to his directorial feature debut but precious little style.

The Bronze is a strident comedy made in accordance with the sole guiding principle of, when in doubt, go even more vulgar. 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. 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 10 minutes removed to cut down on the redundant jokes and scenes.

The opening scene basically tells you all you need to know about Hope Ann Gregory: She’s seen pleasuring herself in her memorabilia-strewn bedroom while watching, for the thousandth time, the video tape of her valiant routine on the uneven bars that won her a bronze medal back in 2004 and made her the best thing that ever happened to Amherst, Ohio. She lives with, and receives a hefty allowance from, her pathetic postman father (Gary Cole), whom she ridicules mercilessly, and is alarmed that the town has now produced another precocious female gymnast, 16-year-old Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson), who might well eclipse her.

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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 a thin, tightly pursed mouth. For years, she’s benefited from the largesse of local merchants who give her stuff for free, but that’s drying up now, and she hasn’t spoken with her old Coach P, who guided her to semi-glory, in a long time.

When Coach P suddenly dies, Hope receives an offer she would love to refuse but really can’t: A letter from the deceased informs her that, if she coaches the promising Maggie and gets her on track for the upcoming Toronto games, Hope will receive $500,000. 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.

Also livening things up is Hope’s handsome ex and gold- and silver-winning gymnast, the aptly named Lance (Sebastian Stan), who swoops in to snatch Maggie from Hope’s grasp and prepare her for Toronto. Furious as Hope is at this betrayal, it doesn’t stop her from giving Lance another tumble. 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.

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The script by Rauch and her husband Winston Rauch finally sobers up to invest Hope with some lessons learned and even a possible but not very credible future with a bashful, twitchy young gym assistant (Thomas Middleditch).

Longtime commercials ace Bryan Buckley, whose Africa-set short Asad was Oscar-nominated in 2013, brings energy to his directorial feature debut but precious little style.

Production companies: Stage 6 Films, Duplass Brothers Productions
Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Cecily Strong, Haley Lu Richardson, Dale Raoul
Director: Bryan Buckley
Screenwriters: Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch
Producer: Stephanie Langhoff
Executive producers: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Bryan Buckley, Melissa Rauch, Winston Rauch, M. Charles Cuddy
Director of photography: Scott Henriksen
Production designer: Daniel Skinner
Costume designer: Michelle Martini
Editor: Jay Nelson
Music: Andrew Feinstein, John Nau
Casting: Jeanne McCarthy

No rating, 108 minutes