‘Olympic Dreams’ is a warm hug on a cold winter’s night

Monday, February 24, 2020 - 2:41pm

NOSELL

IFC Films

For many people, the Olympics is a major highlight. Watching incredible feats of athleticism in unfamiliar locales is always a treat, and the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang was no exception. No matter the season, no matter the sport and no matter the country, the Games are a delight for people around the globe. That said, we can only ever view the Games through a television screen, thousands of miles away from the real action. This is part of what makes the film “Olympic Dreams” so enticing — it’s a chance to see the Olympics from a new point of view, a behind-the-scenes look at the way the Olympics is run and the people who come to the Games with big dreams.

The film follows two main characters: Penelope (Alexi Pappas, “Tracktown”), a first-time Olympic athlete competing in cross-country skiing, and Ezra (Nick Kroll, “Big Mouth”), a sociable dentist who takes the opportunity to volunteer at the Olympics. The two characters have very different experiences at the event: Penelope is plagued by the pressure to perform well in her competition, while Ezra enters the village joyful for the chance to even attend. 

While Penelope’s perspective as an athlete is a new and interesting story for the average audience, Ezra’s is one that we understand. The way his eyes light up as he takes in the sights of the Olympics is charming and relatable, the awe of seeing a new side of something that he finds great joy in. But despite their differences, they are drawn together by their titular dreams and a struggle to understand what they want in life moving forward, causing them to form a strong connection. 

Despite the somewhat cliché premise, “Olympic Dreams” is a very unique film for a number of reasons. For one, it was filmed in the PyeongChang Olympic Village during the 2018 games, depicting rooms and buildings that were actually being used for the Olympics during shooting. The reason this was possible is one of the other unique things about this film: Kroll, Pappas and director (and Pappas’s husband) Jeremy Teicher (“Tracktown”) were the only members of the cast and crew during shooting, though you would never guess that from watching. 

Another unique aspect is the sheer number of athletes in the film. Pappas, Olympian-turned-Hollywood actress, ran track for Greece in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and released a film that same year (“Tracktown,” which starred Pappas and was co-written by Pappas and Teicher). In addition to Pappas, several of Ezra’s patients were real Olympians in the 2018 games. It also features Morgan Schild, a freestyle mogul skier for USA, as Penelope’s hallmate Maggie, and Gus Kenworthy, a freestyle skier, playing a version of himself that strikes up a delightful friendship with Penelope. 

But the main star of the film is the relationship between Penelope and Ezra, an emotional connection that formed so quickly and so intensely that they couldn’t explain what it was, but knew that they would never forget it. Pappas and Kroll are both effortlessly charming, conveying a warmth and bliss in each other’s company in every scene. Watching Penelope and Ezra run through the Olympic village, eat Korean barbeque and dance like no one’s watching, you get a sense that these are two people who are perfectly happy when they’re together. 

“Olympic Dreams” is a love letter to the Olympics, to the good and the bad of finally achieving your dreams and finding people in the chaos. For an hour and a half, you are transported to a snowy village in South Korea, where you get to watch two people find each other within the brief bubble of the games. Despite the cheesy title and premise, the film manages to weave a story that is a perfect middle between stiff and cheesy, a sweetness that is injected in every line and interaction in such a way that you walk out with a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart.