Once upon a time, Hope Ann Gregory (Melissa Rauch, “The Big Bang Theory”) was America’s sweetheart. She won the titular bronze in the 2004 Olympics and with it, the hearts of fans across the United States.
Twelve years later, back at home in Amherst, Ohio, not much has changed in Hope’s mind. She’s still an “American hero” deserving of free food at the mall food court. Except there’s a new child prodigy in town and, following the death of Hope’s old coach (and some complicated business with her inheritance money), Hope is forced to step up and help Mighty Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson, “The Young Kielowski”) on her path to stardom.
“The Bronze” takes its time getting to that so-called stardom. Hope initially sets Maggie up for failure, filling her with junk food, Avril Lavigne and a highly potent “green” smoothie. Then a quick change of heart alongside the promise of money turns her around. From there, Hope must struggle with being an absolutely miserable person and her fear that Maggie’s success will overshadow her own.
Rauch plays the insufferable Hope perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that she’s absolutely unbearable to watch. She swears in a thick Midwestern accent and snorts Claritin each morning to start her day. She bullies everyone from her angelically patient dad (Gary Cole, “Tammy”) to her weed dealer. While her abrasiveness and complete lack of self-awareness are clear attempts at comedy, Hope induces more cringing than laughing.
Poor Thomas Middleditch (“Final Girls”) seems destined to play the same twitchy nerd he always does. This time he’s Ben, the nervous gym assistant and Hope’s eventual (read: inevitable) love interest. Who could ever love someone like Hope, you might ask? Only this guy, who she is relentlessly cruel to.
“The Bronze” tries to break free of its formulaic narrative by throwing in as many plot twists as it can. It twists and turns so much that it finds itself in much the same place where it began. Loyalties change and change back and change back again. People fall in love on and off the high bars. “The Bronze” actually does its best when it sticks to the narrative formula. But it tries too hard to surprise its audience. In the end, things are (somehow) resolved and, by some miraculous salvation, Hope is not the absolute worst person ever.
“The Bronze” is almost funny. In its quieter moments, it’s entertaining — a sweet moment between Ben and Hope is peppered with gentle awkwardness and Ben asking Hope if she tapes down her boobs in an attempt to tell her she’s pretty just the way she is. But, unfortunately, “The Bronze” relies too heavily on the crutch of raunchiness, favoring crude sex jokes and swearing over well-developed humor.
So “The Bronze” doesn’t stick the landing, that’s clear. But even worse, much like its main character, it doesn’t know when to quit.