The Bronze: Eastbound and Way Down, by David Bax
At the beginning of Bryan Buckley’s The Bronze, we are treated to a montage detailing the childhood of international competitive gymnast Hope Annabelle Greggory (played by Melissa Rauch, who also co-wrote the screenplay). Hope is born on the fourth of July and, as an infant, we see her swaddled in the American flag. The oppressive red, white and blue palette that marks not just this montage but the production design of the whole movie is a less than subtle hint that Hope is meant to be some sort of avatar for the USA. Oh, how little Rauch and Buckley must think of their country.
The Bronze’s main action picks up a few years after Hope has achieved a bronze medal. She is no longer competing and has burned through the money her brief notoriety got her (including a stint on Dancing with the Stars). She lives with her father (Gary Cole), never wears anything but her Team USA workout sweats and is more than content to be the bullying big fish in the small pond of her hometown, where the welcome sign on the highway alerts all who pass through that a bronze medalist resides therein. The plot kicks off (after some uncomfortable disability-mocking and other, more general mean-spiritedness sets the tone) when Hope’s old coach dies, leaving Hope a large sum in her will on the condition that she complete the training of the town’s new up-and-comer, Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson) and get her to the next games.
If that sounds like a sitcom premise, then you’ve got the idea. In almost every way, The Bronze plays like a lazy knockoff of one of the best half hour comedies in recent television, Eastbound & Down. That show was also about a washed up athlete who attempted to bury his low self-esteem and lack of relevance under a caustic storm of arrogance.
In Eastbound, though, Danny McBride and the writers understood that, in order to make Kenny Powers a character worth spending time with, his cruelty and stupidity had to always be accompanied by tragedy and pathos. Rauch’s Hope, on the other hand, is just an aggressively hateful individual. For all intents and purposes, she is the villain of the story. When she attempts to sabotage Maggie’s chances in the hopes of getting the inheritance early, there’s not even a speck of awareness that she is potentially ruining this young girl’s life. We wanted Kenny to achieve redemption. We want Hope to get her comeuppance.
The other characters aren’t exactly sympathetic, either. The film seems to be ridiculing Maggie for her unrelenting positivity. Cole’s father is an emotionally weak pushover. Sebastian Stan’s antagonistic and far more successful former gymnast only exists to paint Hope’s character arc in broad strokes with lines like, “You’ll fail her like you failed yourself.” And all of them have shrill, exaggerated Midwestern accents the likes of which we haven’t seen since the equally malicious and shallow Drop Dead Gorgeous.
Not being familiar with her work on The Big Bang Theory, my impression while watching The Bronze was that Rauch is a boisterous and game actor who deserves better material. But then I reminded myself that she wrote the damn thing. Maybe this is what she deserves, after all.